Dr. John Tanton obituary

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."

Watch: A 15 minute video tribute to Dr. John Tanton.


If you would like to know more about John and Mary Lou Tanton's activities on the immigration and other fronts, please do read their biography, Mary Lou & John Tanton: A Journey into American Conservation by John F. Rohe. It is available from: Amazon.com, and FAIR.

The biography is also available in a Kindle Edition from Amazon.

You can also download the entire book in PDF format for free.

From the back cover: In the foreword to this book, Governor Richard D. Lamm observes two themes: first, it is an insight into how new viewpoints gain a foothold in the world of ideas... and second, it is a lesson on how people from even remote parts of America can assert their ideas by the power of their message, the wisdom of their strategies, and the strength of their personalities.

Raised on family homesteaded farms, Mary Lou and John Tanton developed a love of the land and a sense of place. This affinity for the land eventually led them to the hub of a divisive national controversy involving citizenship, language, culture, family planning, conservation, and American identity. When our successors search for a caring voice in our age, an echo from the Tantons will still be heard.

Please see the Foreword to this biography by Richard D. Lamm. This Foreword discusses John's tendency to ask cosmic questions, forcing us to see the consequences of present change.

John Tanton has also produced a video containing a series of personal interviews on various topics. You can view the video here. If you would like to obtain a copy of this video, please contact the Social Contract.

Also see John's resume and photo gallery.

Copyright 2006-2022 Dr. John H. Tanton estate