Obituaries

Hope Ryden, 87, wildlife protector and photographer

Ms. Ryden spent more than 25 years as a writer, director, and producer of documentary films.

Barbara Hill

Ms. Ryden spent more than 25 years as a writer, director, and producer of documentary films.

NEW YORK — Hope Ryden, whose lifelike photographs of North American beavers, coyotes, mustangs and other wildlife helped elevate them into poster animals for conservation campaigns, died June 18 in Hyannis, Mass. She was 87.

The cause was complications of hip surgery, her brother, Ernest E. Ryden, said.

Advertisement

An English major who later developed a passion for photography during breaks abroad as a Pan Am flight attendant, Ms. Ryden, in 1961, joined Robert Drew & Associates, a noted documentary production company, where she and her colleagues were in the vanguard of cinéma vérité filmmaking.

By the early 1970s, she had become a full-time naturalist and animal-rights advocate, publishing books for adults and children lushly illustrated with her own photographs.

Get Today's Headlines in your inbox:
The day's top stories delivered every morning.
Thank you for signing up! Sign up for more newsletters here

Her advocacy was credited with encouraging Congress to pass legislation in 1971 protecting the populations of wild horses and burros in the West; their numbers had dwindled to an estimated 17,000 in 1970 from a peak of 2 million. She also helped persuade New York’s Legislature to name the beaver the official state mammal in 1975.

Ms. Ryden wrote two dozen books on wildlife, including “America’s Last Wild Horses,” “God’s Dog: A Celebration of the North American Coyote,” “Bobcat Year,” and “Wild Animals of America ABC.”

In “Lily Pond: Four Years With a Family of Beavers,” she described beavers’ sociable dam-building, kit-rearing and playful shoving matches, observed in Harriman State Park in Rockland and Orange counties, New York.

Advertisement

“Like Japanese wrestlers, the contenders would square off, grip one another’s loose ruff with their black satiny hands, and then drive forward with all their might until the stronger one propelled the weaker backward into deep water,” Ms. Ryden wrote.

“Breast-to-breast, cheek-to-cheek, heads tilted skyward, eyes rolled upward so that only membranes showed,” she continued, “their resemblance to samurai warriors was uncanny, both in bodily shape and in the martial strategies they employed. They inflicted no wounds; theirs was a contest of strength, not an outlet for vengeance.”

Hope Elaine Ryden was born on Aug. 1, 1929, in St. Paul. Her father, E.E. Ryden, was a Lutheran minister who helped unify four denominations to form the Lutheran Church of America. Her mother, the former Agnes Johnson, was an organist and pianist.

In addition to her brother, she leaves her husband, John Miller.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in 1951 from the University of Iowa, she was a fashion model in addition to her work as a flight attendant. In 1958, she was a crew member aboard Pan Am’s inaugural trans-Atlantic jet passenger flight.

Ms. Ryden spent more than 25 years as a writer, director, and producer of documentary films, beginning with Drew Associates and also working for ABC News.

Among her first documentaries was “Jane,” which profiled actress Jane Fonda at 25 as she prepared for her starring role in “The Fun Couple” on Broadway. The show flopped, but the documentary, produced by Ms. Ryden and directed by D.A. Pennebaker, became a classic of fly-on-the-wall filmmaking.

In 1965, she and her production team, including the cinematographer Abbot Mills, immersed themselves in the lives of Richard and Mildred Loving, the Virginia couple who challenged the state’s law against interracial marriage.

Mildred Loving, a black woman, and Richard Loving, a white man, had been sentenced to a year in prison for violating an anti-miscegenation statute that was still valid in Virginia and two dozen other states.

In 1967, the US Supreme Court declared the Virginia law unconstitutional, voiding all race-based restrictions on marriage.

Ms. Ryden’s footage was not immediately screened publicly, but was incorporated into “The Loving Story,” an Emmy Award-winning documentary released in 2011, in which she also appeared.

Her other documentaries included one that followed two Peace Corps nurses in Malaya and another on a Boston man who saved some 9,000 animals in Suriname from starvation or drowning.

She devoted her later years to animal-rights advocacy, passionately objecting to the treatment of wild horses as livestock to be slaughtered wantonly.

In addition to her books, Ms. Ryden wrote for National Geographic, Audubon, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Magazine.

Her commitment to animal rights earned her a place in the pantheon of scientific adventurers embraced admiringly by Kay Redfield Jamison, a psychiatrist and author, in her book “Exuberance: The Passion for Life.”

Real journalists. Real journalism. Subscribe to The Boston Globe today.