Stewart Udall

Stewart Udall died last week. He loved the West and had a greater influence on the protection and enjoyment of its wild places than any person since President Teddy Roosevelt.

Udall traveled every western state, enjoyed our people, places, our political and environmental leaders. I had the great fortune to know Stewart; stayed at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico where we would talk from breakfast until late afternoons. Our conversations were always guided by his questions. Endlessly curious, he would inquire and seek. Talking with Udall was to watch and listen to a man on the hunt for information, knowledge, and opinions.

But what stories he had to tell.... if one could get them out of him. Stewart resigned from his congressional seat in the United States House of Representatives to accept the position of Secretary of The Interior under President John Kennedy. Following the assassination, President Johnson asked Udall to stay on the job. His passion and informed leadership persuaded both Presidents and the Congress to designate four new national parks: Canyon Lands in Utah, North Cascades in Washington State, Redwoods in California, and Guadalupe in Texas. He prompted the nation's first National Seashores, eight of them. He asked for and received the designation of six National Monuments and fifty Wildlife Refuges.

A wise, serious man, Udall had a wry sense of humor. I once asked him why President Kennedy had selected him as Interior Secretary. With a slight smile he said, "I think I might have been the only person Jack actually knew west of the Mississippi." We both laughed but the truth is that Kennedy and Udall admired each other, had served together in the congress, and when Kennedy announced his intention to seek the Presidency, Udall was one of the first on board. " And Lyndon Johnson" I asked, "Why did he continue you in the position?" "Oh," he answered," I always thought Lady Bird simply told the President to keep me on. She and I were fast friends."

Perhaps it made no difference to his pursuits and policies but Stewart looked like a westerner might look if Hollywood could ever got it right: dark heavy eyebrows shading eyes that always seemed to be squinting into a desert sunset, a weathered face -- sun spots and all -- framed by swept back collar length white hair and a neckerchief knotted lightly around his throat.

When last we visited at his home, I asked the liberal Udall what he thought about today's politics and the congress. He quickly responded that his major surprise and disappointment was that environmental protection was no longer a bipartisan policy. He recalled that during his almost two decades in Washington the two political parties were in full agreement about preserving and protecting the landscape, particularly in its most pristine and critical condition.. I telephoned Stewart a couple of months ago. Although ill and almost blind, his voice was resonant and powerful. At the end of our conversation, he said, "Pat, thanks for staying in touch with me and now I'll paraphrase from Edward R. Morrow, 'Goodbye and good luck.'

Goodbye Stewart Udall and our heartfelt thanks.


Former Montana congressman Pat Williams