Remembering a hero: John Weis

Longtime TU member and stream access chamption John Weis. Francisco Kjolseth photo.

By Brett Prettyman

John Weis always took pleasure in the simple things and never hesitated to point out the obvious.

John also understood the value of something too many of us have conveniently learned to ignore – getting involved in things we are passionate about.

Being passionate about something doesn’t mean buying another fly rod for your quiver because you love fishing. It means maybe missing time on the water to attend an important meeting about a new regulation decision on a local water or sacrificing personal time during an epic hatch to take some kids from the neighborhood fishing.

As a professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Utah John was a busy man. Still, he found time to stand up for his passions.

Among them: family; fly fishing and road cycling.

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John Weis at the oars in the last months of his life. Despite being stricken by cancer, he insisted on taking his turn at the sticks. Francisco Kjolseth photo.

Many times through the years—inevitably just as I was settling in for a mellow night at home—John would call and say he was on his way to pick me up.

“What meeting tonight John?” I would ask. But it didn’t matter; he was already on his way.

John didn’t just attend meetings as a member of the public with a concern. He became a part of the meetings to make sure public voices were being heard. John served as a volunteer on both the Regional (Wildlife) Advisory Council for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and Utah Fish Health Board.

John was also a member of Trout Unlimited and served on the board of the Stonefly Society Chapter.

He felt anglers were underrepresented on these important committees and, instead of encouraging somebody else to get involved, John stepped up for all anglers.

He did the same thing when one of his graduate students at the University of Utah was struck by a car and killed while riding her bike in a local canyon. John became a spokesman for biking safety measures and helped get a 3-foot-law passed to protect riders from vehicles.

When a battle erupted regarding stream access for the public in Utah John was in the thick of things. He engaged in the process, spent time at the state Capitol and voiced the thoughts of many in letters to the editor and opinion pieces like this one in the Salt Lake Tribune on Feb. 12, 2009, about a bill being considered by the Utah Legislature:

“As it currently reads, this bill seeks to nullify a unanimous Supreme Court decision based upon Utah law. This law strikes against the basic tenets of the outdoor life embraced by many Utah families and, if it comes to a vote, should be defeated.”

For more than a decade John volunteered for another group. Reel Recovery provides free fly-fishing retreats for men with cancer. John helped raise money for the retreats and talked to cancer doctors about sharing details of the retreats with their patients. But what John really loved was being a fishing buddy for the men participating at the retreats. He was patient, noticed the little things and pointed out the obvious.

It has been just over a year since John passed away from cancer. A life of service to his many communities cut way too short. I think about him often and was reminded of him recently by a friend who took time out of a busy day during a hectic week to attend a Supreme Court hearing on the Utah stream access issue.

“I went for John,” my friend said.

Brett Prettyman is TU’s communications director for the Intermountain Region of Utah, Wyoming and Nevada. He lives and works in Salt Lake City.

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John Weis and author Brett Prettyman at the A-section put-in of the Green River. Photo courtesy Reel Recovery.

By Chris Hunt.