Jay D. Hair, environmentalist, was fierce fighter

Jay D. Hair, one of the nation's most prominent environmental leaders, transformed the National Wildlife Federation from a group of conservative hunters and fishermen into a powerful, media-savvy lobby and the nation's largest membership-based environmental organization.

"A lot of it had to do with the force of his personality," said William Ruckelshaus, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under Presidents Nixon and Reagan and a friend of Mr. Hair's. "He was willing to take on anybody if he disagreed with him — including the president of the United States."

Mr. Hair died yesterday (Nov. 15) in his Magnolia home after a five-year battle with bone-marrow cancer. He was 56.

In 1995, Mr. Hair moved to Seattle from Washington, D.C., to be with his wife, Leah Knapp Hair, a Seattle resident he married in 1992.

"He simply adored the Northwest and it was an easy sell to get him to move out here," she said. "He relished being in a place that has such an extraordinary environment, where he could go backpacking, hiking and fly-fishing."

A lobbyist, educator, publicist, and adversary of conservative politicians whom he saw as a threat to the environment, Mr. Hair was once described by former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell as "the most respected member of the nation's environmental community."

A former zoology professor at Clemson and North Carolina State universities, Mr. Hair at one point held two prestigious environmental leadership positions at the same time.

He served as the president and chief executive officer of the National Wildlife Federation from 1981 to 1995, when its membership swelled to 6 million, and from 1994 to 1996 was president of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.

Ruckelshaus recalled a White House meeting with President Reagan, for which Mr. Hair purposely arrived 10 minutes late because he was angered by one of Reagan's policies.

"I've heard some awfully strong men say what they're going to tell the president, then actually see him and say, 'Golly Mr. President,' " Ruckelshaus said. "He let the president know exactly what was on his mind."

Mr. Hair's strong stands continued throughout the 1980s. A few months after the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989, Mr. Hair sent plastic bags of oil-soaked rocks to Congress and the White House to illustrate how the cleanup was lagging.

Mr. Hair also enlisted the support of corporate America. While at the Wildlife Federation, he established the Corporate Conservation Council, designed to bring businesses in touch with environmental issues.

"Our economic and environmental destinies are bound together," said Mr. Hair in a 1993 column for International Wildlife, a magazine of the Wildlife Federation. "We can choose to stroke our oars toward a common objective. Or be satisfied that at least one side is keeping the other from going anywhere."

When he left the Wildlife Federation in 1995, Mr. Hair was the highest paid executive in the environmental sector, making $298,000 in wages and benefits.

While at the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources — a global network of more than 10,000 scientists, policy professionals, and volunteers from 181 countries dedicated to conservation — Mr. Hair oversaw the World Conservation Congress in 1996, the largest meeting of conservation leaders since the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992.

Mr. Hair was appointed by former Presidents Bush and Clinton to several advisory committees, including Clinton's Council on Sustainable Development.

Mr. Hair also frequently testified before U.S. congressional committees to urge passage of stronger natural resource and environmental legislation.

Among the many environmental issues he fought for, Mr. Hair said the extinction of plants and animals was the "greatest insult" humans were inflicting upon the Earth.

"If we take all the environmental warnings before us and proceed as though it's business as usual, we'll create the illusion of a fool's paradise," said Mr. Hair in a 1994 speech.

A public memorial for Mr. Hair will be held in Seattle early next year.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in Mr. Hair's name to Long Live the Kings, an organization devoted to the restoration of wild salmon; Global Partnerships, which provides loans to poor villages in Latin America; or the Biodiversity Fund of the World Conservation Union.

Besides his wife, Mr. Hair is survived by his mother, Ruth Johnson of Newark, Del.; brother, Col. Dwight Hair of Elkton, Md.; sister, Paulette Pyle of Avondale, Pa.; and his children, Catherine Hair of Apex, N.C.; Lindsay Hair of New York City; and Colin Patton and Benjamin Patton, both of Seattle.