Former Interior Secretary Stewart Udall died on the morning of March 20, at the age of 90, peacefully, according to a statement issued from the office of his son, US Sen. Tom Udall, D-NM.
I always found former Secretary Udall to be a gracious and outspoken public figure, and he was particularly noble and forceful in Santa Fe's fight against the approval of the super Walmart (I interviewed him on the subject on a bench outside city hall during a protest, and he kept his arm around me for the entire interview, which normally is not something I would like, but it was hard to not be somewhat in awe when talking with Udall).
Stewart Udall was an environmentalist of large proportion, whose own feelings about the West translated into every action he took, whether it was fighting against uranium mining on tribal lands, or against that stupid Walmart.
The Reporter was lucky to publish an interview/essay by Udall earlier this year, which is part of the book Voice of the American West, titled "A Troubled Optimist."
Much will be written about Udall's legacy—much already has been—but I think he said it best himself many, many times. And this quotes that ends his essay also says it well:
I have the old-fashioned view that it’s important to have ties with the land. I feed my wife’s birds every morning. I’m losing a lot of my piñon trees, but I’m trying to water and save what I can. I think there’s hope. Maybe this big burst of growth will subside and people in the West will again see how rich they are in terms of the environment that surrounds them and how important it is to preserve it.
I greatly admired Stewart Udall—Santa Fe, the west, our country, lost a great leader today. Here is the press release from Sen. Udall's office:
Statement from the Udall Family
anta Fe, N.M. — Former Interior Secretary Stewart Lee Udall, 90, father of Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., passed away peacefully this morning at his home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, surrounded by family.
Following a fall last week, Udall, who had been in failing health, was confined to his bed and died of natural causes.
Stewart Udall was preceded in death by his wife of 55 years, Erma Lee Udall. He is survived by their six children; Tom, Scott, Lynn, Lori, Denis and Jay, and their families, including eight grandchildren.
A "Celebration of Life" memorial will be held later this year in Santa Fe. In lieu of flowers, contributions in his memory may be made to the following organizations: Santa Fe Pro Musica, Santa Fe Conservation Trust, and Think New Mexico.
Stewart L. Udall was born in St. John's, Arizona on January 31, 1920 to former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Levi S. Udall and Louise Lee Udall. He attended the University of Arizona where he earned undergraduate and law degrees.
During World War II, Stewart served four years in the United States Air Force as a gunner. He flew fifty missions over Western Europe for which he received the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters.
In 1954, Stewart was elected to serve Arizona's second district in the U.S. House of Representatives. He was elected to serve four terms in the Congress.
In 1960, he proved instrumental in helping persuade Arizona Democrats to support then-Senator John F. Kennedy during the Democratic Nomination Convention. Upon election in 1960, President Kennedy appointed Stewart Udall Secretary of Interior, where his accomplishments under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson made him an icon in the environmental and conservation communities.
Legislative achievements from Secretary Udall's cabinet career include The Wilderness Act of 1964, The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, the expansion of the National Park System and the creation of The Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Until his passing, Stewart Udall continued his devotion to public service as an author, historian, scholar, lecturer, environmental activist, lawyer and citizen of the outdoors. He was the last surviving member of President Kennedy's original cabinet.