Thursday, August 22, 2013

On the death of my friend and mentor, Jack Hagan

In Memoriam
John W. Hagan
(1930 – 2013)

I just heard that my old friend Jack Hagan passed away earlier this week, on Monday, August 19. I first met Jack at a meeting of a newly formed club, the Santa Ana Valley Falconers Association, when I was in my early teens, and he became a great mentor to me in falconry as well as in wildlife photography. The club met weekly at Jack’s home in Santa Ana, California, and later at Jeff Sipple’s house in Cypress. Recently divorced, Jack was a professional photographer and also a collector of various reptiles and amphibians (which might explain the divorce). I remember he kept live rattlesnakes in aquariums in his garage and rare turtles in his bathtub. His house was often sweltering inside, to accommodate the tropical turtles.

Jack took some amazing photographs in the late 1940s of a Peregrine Falcon nest in Laguna Canyon. When he came back from the Korean War, though, the nest was empty, and the peregrines never nested there again. This was but one of the California peregrine nests he knew off that had been abandoned during the DDT era.

Jack was in his mid-thirties when the club formed, with thinning dark-brown hair and a pipe he puffed on constantly. He had the most calm, unflappable nature of anyone I’ve ever met. The younger guys in the club called him the “Old Man,” which always made him smile. He had certain catch phrases he would use in conversation. If you asked him a complex question, he would puff thoughtfully on his pipe and say, “This I do not know,” but would then go on to expound in great detail his theory on the topic at hand. He drove a classic Mercedez 300 SL sports car with gull-wing doors and usually flew goshawks.

Jack had an extensive collection of old falconry books, as well as some beautiful framed 19th-century falconry prints on the walls of his house. He told me I was welcome to come over anytime and read his books, which I often did.

Jack would later become the first president of the California Hawking Club, which, in some ways, sprang from the ashes of the Santa Ana Valley group, using the same logo, which artist Jeff Sipple designed.

The last time I saw Jack was in 2001 at the 30th annual field meet of the California Hawking Club, which was held that year in Bakersfield. I had moved to Upstate New York about a decade earlier and didnt get to California much anymore. We—and several other charter members of the club, such as Jeff Sipple, Bob Winslow, and Mike Arnold—came to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the clubs founding. 

It was great to see Jack. He hadn’t changed much. His hair had gone gray, and somewhere along the way he had given up the pipe, but he was the same affable, good-natured Jack. I will truly miss him.


  1. This is a beautiful piece, Tim. My heartfelt sympathies.

  2. Very well done. Jack was a real gentleman, I remember him well and he will be missed.

  3. Wonderful eulogy Tim. I only met Jack a few times, I think at Henry Swain's in Riverside, maybe at a meet. The photo immediately brought back his image. Jack had a beautiful, easy smile. Love the Laguna Canyon eyrie photo reference, that alone would have been enough to make Jack remembered.

  4. Thanks, John. I'll see if I can find a copy of that Laguna Canyon photo to put online. I should have one somewhere.

  5. Jack was one of the first falconers I met (late 80s) when I was getting started. Thanks for this eulogy.

  6. I used to meet jack on fridays at the bkack horse tavern in norco ca...he delivered mice to the reptile store next door over...he would always have one jackncoke..and after one of his great stories..I could always talk him into 2...nice guy...alot of history there...see you on the other side jack! Tim browne

  7. I met Jack when several of us founded the CHC in Bob Colmen's back yard.
    Among us was, Mike Connelly, Ray Lender, Bob Martins, Jeff Sippel, Tom Gossard
    Jack volunteered to be President, that was the kind of guy was.
    He will be missed.
    Mike Smith

  8. I'm sorry to hear of Jack's death,in the early sixties he was one of the falconer's that we would go to for help and information on the sport.He always had snakes and an asortment of critters on the property..Bob Martin Mike (wright) Arnold along with Denny Grisco wer'e all friends..I am now 70 years and think of all the falconers in my life,Jack was always a kind heart and would help you if you needed information.Now I am retired from the film industry and think alot of my friends have come and gone..Jack will be missed by all that new him,he was a rare man and great falconer.

    God bless you Jack..
    Lee Sollenberger

  9. I was sorry to hear of Jack's death, he was a great man. All in the falconry world will miss him.He helped alot of falconers with birds and information.Myself Bob martin Mike Arnold Dennis Grisco and alot of others new Jack and his world of hawks and snakes..The falconry world has lost a kind man and great teacher of the sport..

    God bless you,Jack
    Lee Sollenberger