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In Memoriam

Stewart L. Udall

Stewart L. Udall

January 31, 1920
March 20, 2010

Stewart Udall, son of the West, enthusiastic and devoted conservationist, as Secretary of the Interior under President John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. (1951-1969) managed vast increases in the National Park system and in the public domain. Absolutely and ruthlessly honest, Udall brought the Department of the Interior back into the center of liberal policy discussions on the environment. He served as a Mormon missionary and was once dubbed the Kennedy Administration’s "peripatetic apostle of outdoor life. He was a fierce advocate for the conservation of scarce resources and national treasurers as well as a crusader for clean air, clean water, and the value of natural beauty. Udall died at age 90 on March 20, 2010 at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Rachel Carson had resigned from her editorial position at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service nearly a decade before Udall’s appointment as Secretary of Interior. But Udall and Rachel Carson were natural allies. After the publication of Silent Spring they became personal friends. They first met when Carson attended the historic White House Conference on Conservation organized by Udall in 1962 When President Kennedy focused public interest on Carson’s charges in Silent Spring that chemical pesticides were dangerously misused at one of his news conferences, Udall seized the opportunity to become the government’s chief advocate for pesticide regulation and reform.

Udall’s public support of Carson’s work reinforced the Kennedy Administration’s interest in the wider problems of environmental contamination. He publically referred to Carson as "a great woman who awakened the nation by her forceful account of the dangers around us." But privately he gave her ideas wider exposure within the Kennedy Administration by inviting her to the intimate "Kennedy Seminars" at Robert Kennedy’s home in Virginia. There she defended her scientific evidence about the dangers of toxic chemicals, and influenced policies later incorporated in the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts which Udall spearheaded.

Equally important, Udall assigned one of his personal assistants, Paul Knight, to follow the pesticide controversy and to report on it directly to the Secretary. Udall and Knight helped Carson respond to her critics. Knight’s report is a mini-history of the height of the crisis engendered by Silent Spring.

Udall later called Rachel Carson the "fountainhead of the environmental movement." He served as one of Carson’s honorary pall bearers at her funeral at the Washington National Cathedral in April 1964. Udall’s own book on the environment, The Quiet Crisis, published that same year, was a powerful call to the conscience of America to protect and conserve its natural resources.

After leaving Washington, Udall taught at Yale University, practiced law and wrote another powerful book, The Myths of August, detailing the effects of uranium mining and nuclear weapons manufacturing and testing in the West.

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