(Photo credit: Anonymous; Courtesy of the University of Arizona Library, Special Collections)
Stewart L. Udall, 1920-2010
Born in 1920, and educated in Saint Johns, Arizona, Udall attended the University of Arizona for two years
until World War II. He served four years in the Air Force as an enlisted B24 gunner, flying 50 missions
over Western Europe for which he received the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters. He returned to the
University of Arizona in 1946 where he played guard on a championship basketball team and attended law
school. He received his law degree and was admitted to the Arizona bar in 1948. He married Erma Lee Webb
during this time. They raised six children.
Udall rapidly became prominent in politics in Tucson and Arizona. As a school board member, he participated
in desegregating the Amphitheater School District in Tucson, Arizona, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled
in Brown v. The Board of Education. Stewart Udall was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 2nd District in 1954. He served with distinction in the House for three terms on the
Interior and Education and Labor committees.
In 1960, President Kennedy appointed Stewart Udall as Secretary of the Interior, where his accomplishments
during eight years under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson earned him a special place among those ever to
serve in that post and have made him an icon in the environmental and conservation communities. Under his
leadership, the Interior Department aggressively promoted an expansion of federal public lands and
assisted with the enactment of major environmental legislation. Among his accomplishments, Udall oversaw
the addition of four parks, six national monuments, eight seashores and lakeshores, nine recreation areas,
20 historic sites and 56 wildlife refuges to the National Park system, including Canyonlands National Park
in Utah, North Cascades National Park in Washington, Redwood National Park in California, and the
Appalachian National Scenic Trail stretching from Georgia to Maine. Also during Udall's tenure, President
Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act, the Water Quality Act, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and
National Trails Bill.
In Ken Burns' notable documentary on the history of the national parks, which aired on public television
last fall, one finds that the contributions of only a few other Americans, such as Teddy Roosevelt, compare
to the achievements of Stewart Udall during his eight years at Interior Secretary.
Stewart Udall also helped spark a cultural renaissance in America by setting in motion initiatives that
led to the Kennedy Center, Wolf Trap Farm Park, the National Endowments for Arts and the Humanities, and
the revived Ford's Theatre. Upon Udall's recommendation President Kennedy asked former U.S. Poet Laureate
Robert Frost to read an original poem at his inauguration, establishing a precedent for that occasion.
A pioneer of the environmental movement, Udall warned of a conservation crisis in the 1960s with his
best-selling book on environmental attitudes in the United States, The Quiet Crisis (1963). In the
book, he wrote about the dangers of pollution, overuse of natural resources, and dwindling open spaces.
Along with Rachel Carson's Silent Spring, The Quiet Crisis is credited with creating a
consciousness in the country leading to the environmental movement. Stewart Udall once famously stated,
"Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man."
After leaving government service, he taught, practiced law, and wrote more books. In 1979, he left
Washington to return to the West. Stewart Udall began another career, as a crusader for victims of
radiation exposure from the government's Cold War nuclear programs. He brought a lawsuit against the
government on behalf of the families of Navajo men who suffered lung cancer in mining uranium for the
government. Another lawsuit sought compensation for people who lived downwind from aboveground nuclear
tests in Nevada during the 1950s and early 1960s. The lawsuits failed in court but eventually produced
results. They provided a mountain of evidence for congressional investigations into the safety of the
nation's nuclear weapons complex. In 1990, the Radiation Exposure Safety Act was enacted to compensate
thousands of individuals.
"What makes Dad unique, I believe, is his unwavering persistence when he believes in a cause or an issue
or the need to right a wrong," said his son Senator Tom Udall, D-NM. "And that persistence wasn't limited
to conservation issues.
"People thought it was a hopeless case," Tom Udall said, referring to Stewart's work to help the victims
of radiation exposure. "He was fighting a federal government that refused to admit any wrongdoing. They
took the case all the way to the Supreme Court and lost, and he eventually got Congress to do justice. It
ended up being a 30-year battle, but my dad never gave up. He never gave in."
Udall was a recipient of the Ansel Adams Award, the Wilderness Society's highest conservation award, and
the United Nations Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement.
In November 2009, legislation was enacted to honor Stewart Udall by renaming the Morris K. Udall Foundation
the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation, in recognition of the historic Interior Secretary's
contributions. The Udall Foundation was created initially to honor the legacy of the late Morris Udall,
who represented Southern Arizona in the U.S. House of Representatives for 30 years. Stewart Udall, who also
represented Southern Arizona in Congress from 1955 to 1961, is Morris Udall's older brother. The two
worked together on many environmental and Native American initiatives while Stewart Udall was Secretary of
the Interior and Morris Udall a member of Congress. Congress recognized that the Udall legacy was really a
shared legacy, rooted in the work of the Udall brothers that dominated environmental reform for three
decades. As Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-AZ, noted at an event honoring Stewart Udall in November 2009, it
is no wonder that the easternmost and westernmost points in the U.S. territories (Point Udall in the U.S.
Virgin Islands, named after Stewart Udall, and Point Udall in Guam, named after Morris Udall) carry their
Stewart L. Udall passed away on March 20, 2010, at the age of 90.
"For the better part of three decades, Stewart Udall served this nation honorably. Whether in the skies
above Italy in World War II, in Congress or as Secretary of the Interior, Stewart Udall left an indelible
mark on this nation and inspired countless Americans who will continue his fight for clean air, clean
water and to maintain our many natural treasures."
President Barack Obama, March 20, 2010
For more information, visit the University of Arizona Special Collections at: http://speccoll.library.arizona.edu.