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Stewart Udall, an American Statesman, Passes

Led unprecedented expansion of national parks and reserves

March 23, 2010 | By Keith Schneider
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  The work Mr. Udall accomplished, like the wild land he preserved in national parks, including Michigan’s Sleeping Bear National Lakeshore, will endure for as long as this nation endures.
I met Stewart Udall and his wife Lee in 1988, when I was a national correspondent for the New York Times and he was in the midst of seeking compensation for American victims of the nuclear weapons industry. It was the start of a friendship of 22 years that ended on Saturday with Stewart’s death.

Stewart, who was 68 at the time, was living with Lee in a beautiful adobe house in the hills above Santa Fe. He managed a law practice that represented Navajo uranium miners injured by radiation exposure, as well as the families of miners who’d died. They both were active in promotion of the arts, a facet of the expansive Udall interests that the couple brought to the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s.

I wrote several articles about Stewart in the Times and we got to know each other well. He invited me to get to know his children—Tom, now a United States Senator, Lynn, Lori, Denis, Scott, and Jay. And in June 1998, three years after I left the Times to launch the Michigan Land Use Institute, Stewart responded to my invitation to speak in northwest Michigan by spending the weekend and appearing at a fund raiser for the Institute, and at an emotional standing room only public gathering at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.

He was the first Secretary of the Interior to ever visit the park, which he helped to establish. It was one of the most memorable weekends of my life. The picture above was taken that day by J. Carl Ganter.

President Obama honored Stewart Saturday with this statement from the White House:

“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. Michelle and I extend our condolences to the entire Udall family, who continue his legacy of public service to this day.”

Stewart Udall made his life count for principles, especially the respect he and his family shared for the land, the arts, and justice that are now embedded in the nation’s culture and economy and way of life. It’s not much of a leap to note that the work he executed during his life, like the wild land he preserved in national parks and refuges, will endure for as long as this nation endures.

In our many conversations, especially those over the last year, I often suggested how lucky he was to serve when he did. It was a golden age of policy making and Stewart was right at the center of it.

I still write for a number of desks at the Times and, as it happens, had already prepared the first draft of Stewart’s obituary. The edited piece that appeared in the paper on Sunday, March 21, 2010 was based on this draft.

This remembrance is reprinted by permission from Mr. Schneider’s blog, Mode Shift. Keith founded the Institute in 1995, served as its executive director until 2000, and then as director of program development until 2008. He is currently the communications director for the Climate Action Network. Reach him at keith@circleofblue.org.

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