On July 16, 2019, John Hamilton Tanton passed from this life, a life fully lived with concern for the well-being of his family, community, country and the world. He passed peacefully at Villa at the Bay after a 16-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
John was born on February 23, 1934 to John Fitzgerald “Jack” and Hannah (Koch) Tanton at Harper Hospital in Detroit, Michigan. At age 10, John moved with his family to his mother’s family farm in the Thumb of Michigan, where he worked alongside his father and grandfather, learning the importance of being a good steward of our earth and its inhabitants. John’s childhood on the family farm instilled an appreciation for nature's fragility.
Upon graduation from High School in Sebewaing, Michigan, John moved to East Lansing to pursue his undergraduate degree in Chemistry at Michigan State University. In 1956, he served as President of Delta Upsilon fraternity at MSU. Dr. Tanton earned his medical degree at the University of Michigan and interned at Denver General Hospital in Colorado. He completed his residency in ophthalmology at the University of Michigan.
John’s formal advocacy for nature started in 1958 when, as secretary of the Michigan Natural Areas Council, he organized letter-writing campaigns and offered supportive testimony for the Wilderness Act. He filed the first suits under Michigan’s Environmental Protection Act to conserve land. In the late 1960s, Dr. Tanton joined Zero Population Growth (ZPG), eventually becoming its National Chair. In 1979, he launched the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), soon thereafter taking a one-year sabbatical in Washington, DC to guide its efforts.
Dr. Tanton always took the “long view”—thinking ahead to future generations and what could be done to protect our planet for them. From this perspective came the motivation to help create a myriad of charitable organizations, including Little Traverse Conservancy, Northern Michigan Planned Parenthood, Petoskey Regional Audubon Society, Recycle North, Top of Michigan Trails Council, ProEnglish (advancing understanding through the bond of a common language), as well as a Great Books discussion group.
Dr. Tanton’s family, friends and colleagues will remember him for his love of nature, his intimate familiarity with botany, biology, wildlife, beekeeping, gardening, stewardship, nature preserves, history, quotations and for the Mondays he consistently surrendered from his medical practice for charitable pursuits. His naturalist cohorts will recall backpacking and camping in North America, Europe, and Australia and climbing the Matterhorn, Mt. Rainer, and Grand Tetons. His patients will remember him for the excellent eye care he provided as an ophthalmologist at Burns Clinic in Petoskey, Michigan.
Dr. Tanton is survived by his wife and loyal companion of 61 years, Mary Lou, and their two daughters, Laura and Jane. Daughter Laura de Olazarra, married to John, resides in Florida with their son John Xavier; their daughter Olivia Jane is attending the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, MD. Daughter Jane Thomson, married to Hugh, resides in Ann Arbor. John is also survived by his sister Liz Faupel, sister-in-law Christine Crotty Brown, nieces and nephews Tom Faupel, Ron Faupel, Vern Brown, Elizabeth Brown Britz, Dwight Brown and their families. He was preceded in death by his parents, brother Tom Tanton and brothers-in-law Ken Faupel and Keith Brown. John’s family is forever grateful for the care provided by the staff of Angel Heart and Villa at the Bay, whose support and attention were tireless and constant.
A quote by Margaret Mead exemplifies the credo by which Dr. Tanton lived: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to Little Traverse Conservancy, 3264 Powell Road, Harbor Springs, MI 49740 (www.landtrust.org / 231-347-0991) and encourages all to explore the splendor of nature on the preserves and trails protected by the Conservancy.
Arrangements are in the care of Stone Funeral Home, Inc.
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