Bernard Rollin, Ph.D. – A Tribute

Bernie Peggy Crop

Peggy Cunniff, Executive Director Emerita

Paying tribute to any extraordinary individual is a formidable challenge, but in remembering Bernard E. Rollin, words are totally inadequate to describe the unique character of the man and his impact on the world. Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” comes closer to an appropriate tribute for this motorcycling, weight-lifting scholar, philosopher, scientist, professor and ethicist.

His affection and devotion to his own companion animals was obvious whenever he talked about them. From a very young age he saw the mistreatment of animals as an injustice. Professionally, his curriculum vitae goes on for pages, listing books and articles he wrote, lectures he presented around the world, and the countless awards and honors he received.

Bernie was a fierce animal advocate, patient mentor, and tireless supporter of many organizations and efforts on behalf of animals, including NAVS, the International Foundation for Ethical Research and the International Institute for Animal Law. To have known him was a privilege, to count him as a friend an extraordinary blessing.

Bernie was funny, irreverent, and fearless. He was a gifted storyteller who had a compelling and effective way of encouraging even his opponents to improve conditions for animals by reminding them of their own core values to do the right thing. He said, “Immorality sanctified by tradition is still immorality.”

His wisdom and insights will live on through his more than 20 books, including his autobiography, Putting the Cart Before Descartes. He was a leader, innovator and problem-solver. He taught the first course ever on veterinary medical ethics and was instrumental in the passage of the Animal Welfare Act.

NAVS benefited greatly from Bernie’s wisdom and experience as an active science advisor. We have been proud to list his name on the banner of our publications. He consulted on numerous NAVS initiatives, wrote articles for Animal Action and was a featured speaker at events for NAVS’ supporters. He lectured to law students and faculty on behalf of the International Institute for Animal Law.

For many years, Bernie was on the Scientific Advisory Board of the International Foundation for Ethical Research. He often acknowledged that IFER’s graduate student fellowships were a “game-changer” because they provided critical support and encouragement to young scientists to pursue careers without exploiting animals.

He changed the attitude and perspective of countless people, and his legacy will live on in his writings and the generations of veterinary students he taught. As he stated, “Our treatment of animals is the last moral frontier, the ultimate test of our humanity, the mirror by which we can see most deeply into our own souls.”  

It is hard to believe that it wasn’t that long ago when the prevailing wisdom in the scientific community claimed that ethical questions were outside the purview of science and ignored or denied the sentience of other species when, as he often pointed out, common sense understood that animals can think, feel and suffer.

While he confessed his discouragement with the hypocrisy he witnessed and the lack of urgency in effecting changes to the treatment of animals, his message was always optimistic and full of hope. He acknowledged the growing moral concern for animals and condemnation of animal abuse. More than almost anyone else, he is responsible for this growing concern for animal welfare.

Bernie Rollin will be greatly missed. Our memories are flooded with thoughts of his wisdom, humor and creative energy. He always made us laugh. His legacy will continue to inspire many to provide greater respect, compassion and justice to animals. We extend our heartfelt sympathy to his wife Linda and son Michael and express our gratitude to them for sharing the time and talent of Bernie with all of us.

(Pictured: Bernie Rollin and Peggy Cunniff)