Derby passed away at her San Andreas home. Her partner of 37 years, Ed Stewart, co-founder of PAWS, was at her side, per a statement from the organization.
Derby, 69, was diagnosed with throat cancer in 2010. She was battling a recurrence of the disease in the months before her death.
“It is impossible for us to imagine a world without Pat Derby … but she chose, and trained, her support team well, and under the leadership of Ed Stewart, Pat’s dreams and visions will be kept alive, her advocacy for animals will continue and PAWS will move forward,” a PAWS statement said.
The 2,300-acre PAWS 2000 sanctuary, off Pool Station Road, is the largest of three sanctuaries Derby helped found. It opened in 2000.
The other PAWS sanctuaries are located in Herald and Galt.
Derby was well known locally, but also drew international attention to her work.
TV show host Bob Barker has been a frequent guest at the ARK 2000 sanctuary, which is closed to the public except on special occasions.
Derby was born on June 7, 1943 in Sussex, England, according to various written accounts of her life, including a 1976 memoir.
Her maiden name was Pat Shelley, a few generations removed from “Frankenstein” author and vegetarian activist Mary Shelley. Derby herself was a lifelong vegetarian.
When her father, a teacher, died, she moved to the United States at age 15. She toured with a ballet company in New York then moved west to pursue a career in acting.
In 1964, she married animal trainer Ted Derby.
She became a respected animal trainer herself, working on shows like “Gunsmoke,” “Lassie,” and “Flipper.”
The Derbys later split.
A 1976 book about her experiences, “The Lady and Her Tiger,” had the effect of casting her as an early animal-rights activist.
It was promoted on the “Merv Griffin Show” and “The Tonight Show” and was a Book of the Month Club selection. It was considered an indictment of the use of trained animals in entertainment.
She met her partner of 37 years, Ed Stewart, doing a Lincoln-Mercury car commercial, with the Lincoln-Mercury cougars.
Sharing an interest in animal welfare, they founded PAWS in 1984 at the Simmerhorn Road/Highway 99 sanctuary in Galt. A cougar from the Lincoln car commercial, Christopher, was among nine of their first animals, according to a story in The Lodi News-Sentinel.
Derby and Stewart were instrumental in helping pass animal-protection laws. Among them: federal and state laws, in 1985 and 1999, protecting traveling elephants and elephants used in rides.
Though the PAWS sanctuaries protect a variety of animals — like bears, lions and tigers — Derby was best known locally for her efforts to protect performing elephants, housed in San Andreas.
In a 2004 interview with The Union Democrat, she explained her affinity for pachyderms.
“Elephants are everything people try to be: Kind, intelligent, sensitive, and family oriented.”
A celebration of life will be held at a later date.