January 5, 2021

Honoring our Friend and Conservation Champion, KiKu Hanes

On the very first day of this new year, we lost one of America’s greatest champions of conservation—Elizabeth ‘KiKu’ Hanes.

To say that KiKu’s life was full to the brim and well-lived would be an understatement. She and her husband Johnnie were two of the most active participants in great outdoor traditions—birding, hiking, hunting and fishing. Especially fishing. She was extraordinary. From Scotland to Iceland, Alaska to Argentina, she was a marvel with a fly rod. In fact, well into her eighties she and her older sister traveled every year to fish for sea run brown trout in Patagonia, sending back pictures with no words, as the size of the fish was the only statement she needed to make.

I first met KiKu, the paramount fundraiser at The Conservation Fund, when I interviewed with our founder, Pat Noonan, for a summer internship in 1988. Once I joined full-time in 1990, she took me under her wing and helped me navigate Pat, the organization, our Board of Directors (of which she was a member), and our growing list of partners and supporters. She was a patient teacher but impatient to get results. She taught me how to focus on the big, important things and how to engage my colleagues in meaningful ways. And she took me out to fundraise with her, where I learned more than any book or website could ever teach.

The only time I think I actually surprised her was when I came back from a trip she had set up for me to eastern Kentucky. She knew a trustee of the foundation I went to visit, and when I returned, she asked how my trip had gone. I proceeded to tell her about the five-hour, round-trip car ride with the head of the foundation to the coal fields of eastern Kentucky where the only thing we talked about was his passion for Gregorian chant. I always wondered how she had known that in the seventh grade I had written a term paper on Gregorian chant and thus would get along famously with the foundation President … but that is just how KiKu was. She understood people and their motivations better than anyone and as a result was one of the best fundraisers ever.

With grace and humor, she taught me and countless others how to engage people in the important work of conserving America’s great landscapes. She was passionate, persistent and utterly fearless. Once she set her eye on you as a potential partner, there was no escape. But for KiKu, it wasn’t about the chase, it was about the result, and few will ever match her record of achievement. To join with KiKu in some conservation venture was to be part of something big and magical; something that mattered and would matter forever.

We have lost a great friend and wonderful colleague, and the nation has lost one of its greatest conservationists. We have included a link below to a wonderful article about KiKu that appeared in Montana magazine a couple of years ago. It captures her spirit and joyfulness beautifully. KiKu’s passing is a reminder to each of us that the opportunity to advance her legacy is a privilege we should honor and cherish.

Thank you KiKu, for everything.

- Larry Selzer

KiKu Hanes: A Modern Day Sacajawea – Montana Living:

Kiku Hanes

Johnnie and KiKu Hanes