Our Favourite VIPs (Very Inspirational People!)

Fiona Oakes

The powerful force that is Fiona Oakes was born in Chesterfield in the UK. She runs Tower Hill Stables Sanctuary in Essex. Fiona says, "I didn't start out to run an animal sanctuary, I have always loved horses but funnily enough I have never been particularly attracted to the riding aspect, it is the looking after and caring for that I am interested in."

It was in 1996 that Fiona moved to a small holding in the wilds of Essex. She explains, "From here I just seem to have acquired one poorly horse after another, and that's how the sanctuary started. On top of the horses I also had a large collection of previously unwanted rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas and hamsters all based in a rather overcrowded two bedroomed bungalow."

The menagerie of animals Fiona cares for at Tower Hill Stables Sanctuary, including horses, sheep, pigs, geese, dogs, cats and more, has now grown to over 400. Her philosophy, she says, is that she is privileged to be able to care for her animals and doesn't regard them as her property. "I do not attach a financial value to any of them. I try to allow them to interact with each other, where appropriate, in as natural environment as possible with me being there as the overseer and carer. My objectives are to give every animal in my care, love and the best possible quality of life I can, and when the time comes, dignity in death."

Fiona, who became a vegetarian as a young child and has been vegan for all her adult life, manages the sanctuary on her own, a 7 days a week, 365 days a year commitment with her partner, Martin, assisting at the weekends. In addition to running the sanctuary, Fiona is also a renowned elite marathon runner and holder of four marathon course records. More recently she completed the Marathon des Sables, described as the 'toughest foot race on the planet'.

"The thought of saving the lives of innocent animals is my main motivation to be so committed and sacrifice so much for my training. To lead by example and to show people that a vegan diet is in no way prohibitive to sporting excellence. If by doing this I can convince just one person (hopefully more) to consider a vegan lifestyle then this is all the reward I need for my efforts."

Philip Wollen

On the face of it, kindness doesn’t sound like a radical idea, just as Philip Wollen, at first glance, does not look like a radical. Wollen is a former merchant banker. He was a vice-president of Citibank when he was 34, and a general manager at Citicorp. Australian Business Magazine named him one of the top 40 headhunted executives in Australia. But about 1990 — he is not exactly sure of the year — Wollen decided to give away 90 per cent of his capital, a process he describes as "reverse tithing".

Since then Wollen has donated millions to improving the environment and helping the powerless—children, animals and the terminally ill—around the world. He sponsors the anti-whaling vessel the Sea Shepherd and the South Australian Children’s Ballet Company, and has built schools, orphanages, lion parks and sanctuaries. His Winsome Constance Kindness Trust supports more than 400 projects in 40 countries. Wollen says his aim is to die broke, to give away all he owns with "warm hands", and that he is on track to do so.

In recent years, he has occasionally appeared in the local press, writing a letter in support of animal rights, for instance, or responding to a humanitarian crisis. In 2005, when 104-year-old Chinese woman Cui Yu Hu, a resident of Melbourne, was struggling to receive an aged person’s visa that would give her the right to medical benefits, Wollen offered to pay all her bills himself. In 2007, he was named Victorian of the Year.

But mostly he does his work away from the public gaze. The trust’s website says "we don’t want your money", and its mission statement is ambitious: "to promote kindness towards all other living beings and enshrine it as a recognisable trait in the Australian character and consciousness." Wollen describes himself as an "ahimsan", a term he has adopted from the Sanskrit word ahimsa, which means "non-violence to any living being". Ahimsa, he says, is "the most beautiful word ever written at any time, in any country, in human history".

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On May 16, 2012 Philip passionately addressed an auditorium with a 10-minute speech at the St James Ethics and the Wheeler Centre debate in Australia.

Jo-Anne McArthur

(Photo by Karol Orzechowski)

Jo-Anne McArthur is an emerging Canadian-born photojournalist whose on-going project called We Animals spans her photographic work of animals in over 40 countries. Beneath her understated and gentle demeanor, Jo-Anne is an incredibly brave and gutsy woman. Among her many exploits, she’s travelled on board the Sea Shepherd’s ocean vessels to Antarctica to block illegal Japanese whaling activities and save hundreds of whales’ lives. When asked about this, she says she was terrified being on the front lines to photograph this very dangerous expedition. “These compassionate people left jobs, families and homes to go to the Antarctic to help stop the poaching of whales. All of us risked a lot. All of us made life-long bonds of friendship,” says McArthur.

And here’s the really important theme running through the We Animals project: Each individual animal that McArthur encounters and photographs on her journeys is a someone rather than a something. That may seem like a matter of semantics to some, but the difference is truly a paradigm shift in our relationship with other species. A something is to us an object. But a someone is a person, an individual. The beauty and genius behind McArthur’s work is how she portrays animals in our society that have been objectified to show that actually they are individuals whose individuality has simply been erased from our consciousness. Her images compel us to reconnect to who they truly are—individuals.

In the spirit of a true animal rights advocate, McArthur sums up her hopeful vision for human – nonhuman animal interaction: “If we can bridge the gap between loving certain animals and using others, we can start to overcome our cognitive dissonance and become more compassionate stewards of the earth.”

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Robert Grillo

Robert Grillo is a marketing and design professional based in Chicago, USA, working with the vegan, vegetarian and non profit community and delivering both digital and print communications. He is also the founder and editor of FreeFromHarm.org, a news and advocacy site that promotes the vegan lifestyle and animal and ecological justice. Robert's core advocacy work is developing the Free From Harm website and its social media touchpoints where he can reach the largest audience and have the greatest impact. He spends most of his time researching and reporting on news, connecting with and interviewing interesting people in the world of animal rights and veganism, and helping FFH fans access the tools and resources they need to be better advocates themselves.

"What I believe about animals and our relationship to them is best expressed by social justice pioneer, Alice Walker: 'The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.' I do not advocate for greater welfare reform for animals or such things as happy meat. Instead I choose to spend my time trying to get people thinking about the more fundamental question of using animals as our resource in an age when using them is completely unnecessary. If I can get someone to think critically about this question, I feel I have accomplished something big!"

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

Colleen Patrick-Goudreau is an exhilarating speaker, a powerful writer, a talented chef, and a persuasive advocate whose success can be measured by the thousands of people whose lives have been changed by her compassionate message. With a master’s degree in English literature and a command of traditional and new media, Patrick-Goudreau fosters change whether she is writing books, speaking to live audiences, hosting her podcast, or producing videos.

Addressing the spiritual, social, and practical aspects of a compassionate lifestyle, Colleen is the author of three cookbooks – The Joy of Vegan Baking, The Vegan Table, and Color Me Vegan – and two vegan/compassionate living books – Vegan’s Daily Companion, and The 30-Day Vegan Challenge. She has appeared on the Food Network and PBS and is a contributor to National Public Radio and The Christian Science Monitor.

The mission of Colleen’s work is to empower people to make informed food choices, to debunk myths about veganism and animal rights, and to give people the tools and resources they need to live according to their own values of compassion and wellness. She always says she’s not asking people to live according to her values; she’s urging people to live according to their own.

Through her sold-out cooking classes, award-winning cookbooks, inspiring lectures, and immensely popular audio podcast, Vegetarian Food for Thought, she has been guiding people to make transition so they can do it healthfully, joyfully, and confidently. Using her unique blend of passion, humour, and common sense, she empowers and inspires people to live as healthfully and compassionately as possible.

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Dr. Michael Greger

(Photo by Derek Goodwin)

Michael Greger, M.D., is a physician, author, and internationally recognised professional speaker on a number of important public health issues. Dr. Greger has lectured at the Conference on World Affairs, the National Institutes of Health, and the International Bird Flu Summit, among countless other symposia and institutions, and was invited as an expert witness in defense of Oprah Winfrey at the infamous "meat defamation" trial. Currently Dr. Greger serves as the Director of Public Health and Animal Agriculture at the Humane Society of the United States.

Dr. Greger is also licensed as a general practitioner specialising in clinical nutrition, and more specifically in vegetarian and vegan nutrition. He is a founding member of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. Dr. Greger's previous books include "Heart Failure: Diary of a Third Year Medical Student" and "Carbophobia: The Scary Truth Behind America's Low Carb Craze". Dr. Greger is a graduate of the Cornell University School of Agriculture and the Tufts University School of Medicine.

More recently Dr. Greger has teamed up with The Jesse & Julie Rasch Foundation to present NutritionFacts.org, a non-commercial website showcasing the results of the latest in nutrition and health research, profiled in hundreds of short engaging videos. "Typically, there are about ten to twelve thousand English-language articles published on human nutrition every year. Scanning through the titles and abstracts, I’m typically able to whittle that down, and end up downloading, categorizing, reading, and analysing about three thousand studies every year, which I turn into hundreds of videos, so I can post a new one every weekday all year long."

All proceeds that Dr. Greger receives from the sale of his books, CDs, and DVDs are donated to charity.