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Maurice ("Mo") Udall Remembered

Air Date: Week of

U.S. Interior Secretary and former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt has this remembrance of his friend and colleague Maurice Udall, or "Mo" as most people called him. Mo Udall, a former Democratic member of Congress from Arizona, died this past week of complications from Parkinson's disease.


CURWOOD: An unabashed friend of the environment is gone. Maurice Udall, a former Democratic member of Congress from Arizona, died this past week after a long bout with Parkinson's Disease. Mr. Udall, or "Mo," as most folks called him, built his legacy with a wit and humor that are more than rare these days on Capitol Hill. US Interior Secretary and former Arizona Governor Bruce Babbitt has this remembrance of his old friend and colleague.

BABBITT: Mo Udall came to Congress in 1961, just in time to participate in the development of our greatest environmental laws: the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Act in 1966, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968, and the National Environmental Policy Act. Then, in the 1970s, as a committee chairman, he led the greatest conservation fight of this century: the struggle to set aside 100 million acres of Alaska lands for parks, wildlife refuges, and national forests. Finally, in 1980, the bill passed, and there was talk of naming a mountain after Mo. It didn't happen, but he delighted in telling this story:

"A few days after the vote, I got a letter in the mail from an irate Alaskan, who said he had viewed my televised remarks and had concluded that I was a blockhead. Enclosed with his letter was a beautiful photo of a lofty, snow- capped mountain, below which he had written, 'With regard to your comments about our naming a mountain after you, you asked for it, you've got it. Mount BS. Named in honor of Morris Udall and his programs which so well reflect the name of this mountain.'"

In the 1980s, Mo took up the cause of the hill people of the Appalachian Mountains, whose communities were being destroyed by the ravages of strip mining, rock slides, floods, and polluted streams. He took on the coal companies and gave us the first laws to regulate strip mining. Back in Arizona he took up the cause of water rights for Indians.

His work was not always recognized or appreciated. He loved to tell how after 7 terms in Congress he returned to Tucson, where he started his campaign by asking the first man he met if he would vote for him for Congress. The man replied, "Sure I will. Anything would be better than what we have up there now."

Mo's real monument will not be a courthouse or a road project or a dam. It is the seashores, the forests, and the national parks that he has saved for generations to come. His epitaph could well be the words of Will Rogers, that he so loved to quote. "We are here for just a spell and then pass on. So get a few laughs and do the best you can. Live your life so that whenever you lose, you are ahead."

CURWOOD: US Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, remembering former Arizona congressman Morris Udall, who died December 12 of complications from Parkinson's Disease. It's NPR's Living on Earth. I'm Steve Curwood.



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