Stewart Lee Udall’s Life Sketch Part II
“The earth . . . . We have to take care of her.”
By Susan Sherwood Arnett, for the Scudder Association Foundation, © 2021
In 1969, Stewart Udall departed his post as Secretary of the Department of the Interior, when President Johnson left office, but continued to be a tireless advocate of civil rights, social change and environmental stewardship. He also continued to champion the nations’ environmental affairs as an author of several books, historian, scholar, lecturer, environmental activist, lawyer, naturalist, and citizen of the outdoors. Udall worked diligently throughout his lifetime to better the world around him. Few people wrote more eloquently and passionately about, or fought more ardently for, protecting the environment.
What became decades of work, Stewart led a high-profile legal crusade on behalf of the victims of radiation exposure, from Arizona, New Mexico and Utah, – those living downwind from above-ground nuclear tests in Nevada. He also fought on behalf of the families of Navajo men who suffered from lung cancer when mining uranium for the government. They were not warned of the dangers they faced from exposure to uranium. While the lawsuits failed in court, they eventually produced results. Stewart redirected his efforts toward Washington, where he lobbied for congressional investigations looking into the safety of the nation’s nuclear weapons complex. The lawsuits provided a mountain of evidence which ultimately led to the enactment of the Radiation Exposure Safety and Compensation Act in 1990. (Stewart sought for its passage and helped to write it.) The act compensated thousands of Americans affected by the exposure.
After fighting this battle, Udall said in a 1993 interview with The New York Times, “The atomic weapons race and the secrecy surrounding it crushed American democracy. It induced us to conduct government according to lies. It distorted justice. It undermined American morality.”
Stewart Udall always had a great respect for the Navajo people that he fought for and also for all Native Americans. Udall declared, “The most common trait of all primitive peoples is a reverence for the life-giving earth, and the Native American shared this elemental ethic: The land was alive to his loving touch, and he, its son, was brother to all creatures.”
At Stewart’s Memorial in 2010, Joshua Madalena, the Jemez Pueblo Governor, said in a prayer the following, “Stewart was a friend to all native people and a friend to her sacred lands. He understood the earth is sacred. He understood the waters are sacred. He understood the sky is sacred. Thank you for all you did for our people and our native land.” The governor of New Mexico, Bill Richardson added, “He was their champion.”
Other post-government accomplishments and work:
• As a member of an environmental organization, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Stewart defended the Environmental Protection Agency against closure due to budgetary cuts.
• Stewart was a visiting professor of Environmental Humanism at Yale University and taught at other universities as well.
• He formed an international consulting firm devoted to creating a better environment, serving as Chairman of the Board.
• During the energy crisis in the 1970s, Stewart advocated the use of solar energy as one remedy to the crisis.
• Stewart crusaded to repeal the Mining Law of 1872.
• He was elected to the Central Arizona Water Conservation Board in 1982 and commissioned as a member of the Arizona Parks Task Force.
• Stewart conceived and planned conferences and symposiums on important energy and conservation issues.
• He was an eloquent writer who published nine books, including a New York Times bestseller.
• He was a twice weekly, nationally syndicated Newsweek columnist who wrote, “Udall on the Environment” about energy reform and climate change.
• In 1986, Stewart was presented the Ansel Adams Award, the Wilderness Society’s highest conservation award and the Audubon Medal by the National Audubon Society.
• Stewart & Lee moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico in 1989, where he continued to write, lecture, practice law and he became active in the campaign against global warming, an issue he’d raised as early as the 1970s when he recognized its dangers.
• He was bestowed knighthood by King Juan Carlos of Spain by the Order of Isabel the Catholic, for his book, “To the Inland Empire.”
• In 1993, Stewart was awarded United Nations Gold Medal for Lifetime Achievement.
• In 1994, he received the Common Cause Public Service Achievement Award for his lifelong protection of the environment and defense of American citizens who were victims of nuclear weapons testing.
St. Croix’s Point Udall is the easternmost point (by travel, not longitude) in the United States. In 1969, it was named in honor of Stewart Lee Udall, as one of the founders of the modern conservation and environmental movement in the United States.
The westernmost point by travel in the United States is in
Guam and, interestingly, is also called Point Udall — named in 1987 after Morris King “Mo” Udall, Stewart’s brother, to honor Representative Udall for his service and accomplishments. Congressman Mo Udall was also an advocate of environmental protection. While proposing the bill that led to renaming the point on Guam, U.S. Representative Denny Smith and Guam’s congressional delegate Ben Blaz wrote in H.R. 2434, “If our legislation is approved, America’s day would begin and end at a Point Udall.”
In 1988, Udall wrote, The Quiet Crisis and The Next Generation, updating his earlier book, The Quiet Crisis published in 1963. He wrote the second book 25 years later to “remind my country . . . to see themselves as stewards of resources that belong to their children and to the unborn.”
An insightful statement by Stewart from The Quiet Crisis and The Next Generation:
“The pact with nature struggling to be born requires new relationships among peoples and nations based on the most intrinsic values of all — sharing, caring, and cooperation. During my adult years, the march of history has conferred power on human beings to modify or impair the natural processes that renew and sustain life on earth. Now even climates can be impaired, and access to the very sun rays that make this planet the one green jewel of our solar system can be obstructed by human action. The fateful challenge facing tomorrow’s environmentalists is to . . . become earth-keepers who steadfastly use their talents to nourish all causes that promote life on this planet. That, for the next generation, is the ultimate message of ecology.”
On December 19, 2007, Stewart was invited to lecture at Tulane University. At this time he was mostly blind and couldn’t use notes but boldly talked for forty minutes on the reality of global warming and what he thought we should do about it. Stewart said, “we can just shrug it off and say, well it just looks like a little climate change and so it will turn back. I believe that will be enormously disastrous for the future. I’m telling you, for the sake of your children and your grandchildren, it is time we paid attention.
The test is, is it good for our country? Will it benefit future generations? I’m a great believer that a generation does best when it sets out to make a contribution or legacy to future generations. We need vision. The old Biblical expression, “where there is no vision the people perish.” [Proverbs 29:18] Well, there is only one solution to this crisis. We have to work together and plan for the future. We need to turn back and reduce the production of these [greenhouse] gases. We’re heading for a cataclysm if we don’t reduce fossil fuels. We could change our automobile fleet, use conservation, thrift and efficiency. To cope with this new world, we need a design revolution – the design of cities, urban planning, efficient buildings, efficient transportation – rapid transit. The production and transmission of electricity is the most important invention ever. It affects all of us. Science is the only thing that can save us. Listen to what the scientists say and then we can begin to make good decisions. There are ominous signs and clouds on the horizon. The U.S. must be the world leader. We need statesmanship to solve these problems.
That is my visionary message. I hope you go home and think about these things.”
Everything that Stewart worried over and passionately warned about has come to pass, as we now see alarming events every day in the news and shown most clearly in the recent 2021 United Nations Climate Report. To the end of Stewart’s life, he was repeatedly and forcefully warning and encouraging our very best efforts in combating climate change. With this science-based report, Stewart would have hoped that finally the world would wake up, pay attention and take action. According to Stewart, the most important thing he ever wrote was, “A Letter to My Grandchildren,” written in December of 2009. But of course, it is intended for all of us. The letter is included elsewhere on this Scudder website. On June 20, 2009, the Village Town Stewards did a video of Stewart sharing his thoughts from the letter. Here is a summary of that video:
“I want to deliver a message to the people of this little planet, that their lives are going to be different, not as mobile as ours. This is a great moment in history—we’re all in trouble, so don’t play petty politics.”
• There are good and bad leaders – support leaders ready to point a new way, people who are going to help build solutions to big problems.
• Be ready and accepting of change, huge change is needed, push for change.
• We need cities surrounded by gardens, space nearby to play and enjoy nature.
• We need a cultural change and are going to have to turn back and change our ideas, to build smaller communities with good public transportation that doesn’t produce carbon which poisons our environment.
• We need to break up larger cities into smaller parts, like villages within a city, connected with fast trains to other parts, like they have done in western Europe.
• I’m a great believer in wind farms and solar energy. We need to rely on renewable energy and gradually phase out fossil fuels.
“I wish you all well. All of you.”
In November 2009, the Morris K. Udall Foundation, located in Tucson, Arizona, officially changed its name to the Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Foundation in an effort to recognize and honor the important contributions of both of the Udall brothers.
On June 8, 2010, the United States Congress passed legislation designating the main Department of the Interior Building in Washington D.C. as the Stewart Lee Udall Department of the Interior Building in honor of his contributions.
Stewart’s wife Ermalee Webb, to whom Stewart was married for 54 years, died in 2001. Stewart felt that the richest people are they who have a good marriage that lasts. According to their daughter Lynn, in an interview for the upcoming PBS documentary, “Stewart Udall and the Politics of Beauty”, “Dad relied on Mom. She was the rock of the family…the glue that kept us all together. She did not live in his shadow. She had a legacy she built for herself. And I think she added a lot to his career.”
Stewart and Lee had six children – Tom, Scott, Lynn, Lori, Denis and Jay and eight grandchildren. Stewart’s close friend, Jack Louffler, remarked in an interview for the documentary, that “A lot of people might think that Stewart’s greatest legacy was what he did for the national parks and the environment. But in retrospect, after all these years, I think that his greatest legacy of all, was his family, his kids, because they’re all beautiful people.” Stewart’s brother, Burr remarked at Stewart’s Memorial that Stewart and Lee’s “kids were all good people, good citizens, and have contributed greatly to their community.”
Stewart Lee Udall died on March 20, 2010 at the age of 90. At Stewart’s Memorial, Karina, his caregiver, shared that not long before he died, Stewart whispered to her, “The earth, it is crucial that they take care of the earth. We have to take care of her.”
(Stewart’s LETTER to My Grandchildren)
 Books written by Stewart L. Udall:
1963 The Quiet Crisis, was described as the first book ever written about America’s environmental history.
1966 The National Parks of America.
1971 America’s Natural Treasures.
1974 The Energy Balloon, a detailed analysis of the nation’s wasteful energy habits and steps needed to correct them.
1976: Agenda for Tomorrow, Udall posited that cities be considered as environments and suggested that cleaning urban areas become a national project.
1987 To the Inland Empire: Coronado and our Spanish Legacy, retraces the trails of Spanish explorer Francisco Vasquez de Coronado as he searched for the “golden cities” of Cibola in what is now Arizona, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Texas.
1988 The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, (revised edition of the Quiet Crisis)
1994 The Myths of August:–A Personal Exploration of Our tragic Cold War Affair with the Atom. The discovery that Atomic Energy Commission officials had lied about the health effects of the atmospheric bomb tests from the Nevada test site in the 1950s, in the course of some of his legal representation of some of its victims.
2002 The Forgotten Founders, an exploration of the American West, making a case that the key players in the western settlement were the sturdy families who traveled great distances to set down communities.
 From the Arizona House of Representatives, “A Concurrent Resolution on the Death of Stewart L. Udall.”
 “Stewart Udall: Advocate for the Planet Earth,” Stewart Udall Papers, University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections, University of Arizona, Tucson, Arizona, https://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/online-exhibits/exhibits/show/stewart-lee-udall/career-chronology
 Keith, Schneider, Stewart Udall interview with The New York Times, 1993, Barry Massey, NBC News, 2010 and Santa Fe, New Mexico, (AP).
 Joshua Madalena, Jemez Pueblo Governor, Stewart Udall Memorial Service, “Stewart L. Udall: A Celebration of Life and Legacy,” Paolo Soleri Amphitheater, Santa Fe New Mexico, 2010, https://www.c-span.org/video/?294237-1/stewart-udall-memorial-service#
 Bill Richardson, New Mexico Governor, Stewart Udall Memorial Service, “Stewart L. Udall: A Celebration of Life and Legacy,” https://www.c-span.org/video/?294237-1/stewart-udall-memorial-service#
 Scott Raymund Einberger, With Distance in His Eyes: The Environmental Life and Legacy of Stewart Udall, John de Graff, White Mountain Independent, 2010; Sierra, The Magazine of the Sierra Club, 2020 and “Stewart L. Udall: Advocate for the Planet Earth,” University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections.
 “Stewart L. Udall: Advocate for the Planet Earth.”
 Stewart’s brother, Morris Udall, served 30 years in the U. S. House of Representatives. His concern for Native Americans and love of the environment resulted in numerous pieces of legislation moving through Congress. Chief among his accomplishments was the Alaska Lands Act of 1980, which doubled the size of the National Park system and tripled the size of the national wilderness system. Other significant legislation includes the Postal Reform Act, Indian Child Welfare Act, Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act. Morris played a leading role in environmental protection movements, in reforming Congress and political campaigns, and in opposing the Vietnam War. “Morris Udall: A Lifetime of Service to Arizona and the United States,” University of Arizona Libraries, Special Collections, Tucson, Arizona, https://speccoll.library.arizona.edu/online-exhibits/exhibits/show/morris-k-udall/home#?c=0&m=0&s=0&cv=0
 Devan Jensen, “Micronesia’s Coming of Age: The Mormon Role in Returning Micronesia to Self-Rule,” BYU Scholars Archive, https://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=3101&context=facpub
 Stewart Udall, The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, (Salt Lake City, Ut:, Peregrine Smith, 1988), xv.
 Stewart Udall, The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation, 270.
 “Stewart L. Udall: Advocate for the Planet Earth.”
 U. S. Department of the Interior Building History, https://www.doi.gov/interiormuseum/building-history
 “Stewart Udall and the Politics of Beauty,” upcoming PBS documentary, projected completion date 2022, https://www.filmmakerscollaborative.org/stewart-udall
 Stewart Udall Memorial Service, “Stewart L. Udall: A Celebration of Life and Legacy.”