by Bob Edwards
I have lived in Washington, DC far too long to have political heroes, but Stewart Udall was the model of what a public servant should be. The best Secretary of the Interior in American history died Saturday, March 20 at the age of 90. After serving as a gunner with the Army Air Corps in Italy during World War II, Udall earned his law degree at the University of Arizona and opened a practice in Tucson. For a lot of people, that would be enough—a comfortable law practice in a nice, warm climate. But Stewart Udall’s father was chief justice of the Arizona Supreme Court and the Udall family has a long history of public service. I like the fact that Stewart began his public career as a member of the school board, ultimately serving as its president. He represented Arizona in Congress from 1955 until 1961 and one of the last things he did there was to establish the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge. If the New York Port Authority had had its way, the Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge would now be the Newark Airport. Perhaps that’s why President Kennedy chose Stewart Udall to be his Secretary of the Interior. Udall served in that post throughout the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson Administrations and those eight years produced America’s most stunning advances in environmental protection. Here is a partial list of legislation Interior Secretary Stewart Udall helped to get through Congress—-plus territories added to the national park system:
Clean Air Act
Clean Water Act
Land and Water Conservation Act
Solid Waste Disposal Act
Endangered Species Preservation Act
National Trail System Act
Wild and Scenic Rivers Act
Redwoods National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park
North Cascades National Park
Canyonlands National Park
Cape Cod National Seashore
Point Reyes National Seashore
There’s much, much more. The New York Times obituary for Udall credited him with the acquisition of 3.85 million acres for federal protection, including four national parks, six national monuments, nine national recreation areas, 20 historic sites, 50 wildlife refuges and eight national seashores. Thanks to Udall, Ellis Island was preserved as a tribute to our immigrant ancestors. He even helped save Carnegie Hall from destruction. Now that is a legacy—-and one that many future generations will enjoy.
Thank you, Secretary Udall, for the awe-inspiring redwoods I’ve seen in California and the condo-free beach I’ve strolled in Truro, Massachusetts on Cape Cod. You were a man who loved your country and preserved plenty of it for the rest of us to love.
Click here to listen to the hour-long conversation I had in 2006 with Stewart Udall in his Santa Fe home.