Witness Post: The Udall Legacy


With the news of Randy Udall passing from this Earth, we pause — reflecting on the contributions the Udall family has made to our country and our world.  But most of all, we mourn. 



Mo Udall and Mark Udall and Randy Udall

Randy & Mark with Morris Udall (c. 1956)


The Udall clan has deep Mormon roots, dating back generations.  The Udall’s also have had politics in their blood for over 100 years, starting with David King Udall, who is considered the family’s founder.  He was born in St. Louis, Missouri, to David Udall and Eliza King, recent Mormon converts who emigrated from England.  Eliza and David Udall sailed to the United States in 1851. The family traveled across the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains by ox cart and settled in Nephi, Utah.  The elder Udall became a bishop in his Mormon “stake” or congregation.  


According to “New Perspectives on the West” on the PBS website, in 1880 David King Udall was called by his church to move with his family to St. Johns, Arizona, in order to become the local bishop and facilitate further Mormon migration into that community. This made David K. Udall unpopular with the established residents of St. Johns and Apache County, who didn’t want the Mormons to live there at all, but it did make him instantly prominent in the community.


Over the next three generations the family flourished in the political realm, wherever they were planted.  If viewed as a combined entity, the extended Udall-Hunt-Smith-Lee family has been elected to positions of political power and influence in six US states: Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon and Utah.


Stewart Lee Udall


After serving four years in the Air Force during WWII, Stewart Udall returned to Arizona and graduated from the University of Arizona and attended law school.  Stewart became politically engaged and was elected to the local school board during the Brown vs. Board of Education case, just before the Supreme Court ruling became law.  He worked to de-segregate the Amphitheater School District in Tucson, which was a landmark case for Arizona.  In 1954 Stewart was elected to Congress from his district and served for 7 years.


In 1961 John F. Kennedy appointed Stewart Udall to served as Interior Secretary.  He accepted the Cabinet appointment and held it for 8 years, in both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.  During that tenure Stewart rolled up his sleeves and worked: he helped cement some landmark legislation for the land conservation and preservation. His sweeping changes created National Parks (setting aside land for Canyonlands, North Cascades, and Redwood National Parks), National Monuments (6 areas were designated), National Recreational Areas (9 areas were set aside), National Historic Sites (20 were established), National Wildlife Refuges (56 were created), and the Appalachian National Scenic Trail.  The Appalachian Trail now stretches for over 2,200 miles, passing through 14 states from Maine to Georgia.



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Stewart Udall, Former US Congressman & Secretary of the Interior


Stewart Udall played a key role in the enactment of environmental laws to protect clean water, wilderness, endangered species, and land & water conservation.  During his tenure in the Cabinet, he helped pass the Wilderness Act (1964), the Solid Waste Disposal Act (1965) and the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act (1968). He also helped steward the Bureau of Indian Affairs during his time, making sure the voice of the Native Americans was sovereign in the US.  Not everyone was happy with his work during those hay days of the Democratic Party, but his legacy has stood the test of time and his policies are hailed today for their boldness.


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Stewart Udall with Lady Byrd Johnson in the Grand Tetons National Park




Morris King Udall


Morris “Mo” Udall was born in St. Johns, Arizona in 1922.  As a young man, Mo loved basketball. Even after a childhood accident left him blind in one eye, Mo sharpened his ball skills, learning to focus with his good eye.  He was described as a Lincolnesque 6’5” man.  He was a tough athlete and played basketball at the University of Arizona with his older brother, Stewart, who was a point guard.  Mo became the President of the student body at Arizona and was a revered scholar-athlete for integrating the cafeteria for his African-American teammates.


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Morris K. Udall


Mo Udall passed, failed, then re-passed the health exam to serve in WWII, as doctors questioned his monocular vision.  He served in the Army during the War.  He returned to his home state and married Patricia Emery in 1949, and they started their family in Tucson, Arizona. The Udall children were religiously influenced by both their father and mother; however, Patricia raised the children Presbyterian.  Randy has two brothers, Mark and Brad, and three sisters, Dodie, Anne and Kathy.


Mo Udall earned a law degree at University of Denver, while he played basketball professionally for two years with the Denver Nuggets.  He started practicing law in Arizona before getting elected to public office.  He first won his seat in a special election in 1961 for the slot vacated by his older brother, Stewart, who was appointed as the Secretary of the Interior in the John F. Kennedy Administration.


Mo Udall in Office


Mo Udall, like his brother, believed in environmental causes and he fought for landmark legislation in his home state of Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, and many other states far from the Rocky Mountains, such as Alaska. Mo Udall was best known for his devotion to campaign finance reform and welfare of Native Americans.  He authored the Alaska Lands Act (1980), doubled the size of the National Park System, legislatively protected archaeological treasures, provided for safe disposal of radioactive waste, and legalized Native American casinos.  He went on to serve Arizona as its senior Congressman for 30 years, winning re-election 14 times.  He was widely recognized for his common sense, collegial approach to governing.  He walked across the Congressional aisle with ease and confidence, working to finish the country’s business.


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Morris Udall, Democratic Congressman Arizona


Mo Udall made one long, hard run for the Presidency, and narrowly lost the Democratic nomination for President in 1976.  He placed second to Jimmy Carter at the Democratic National Convention that year.  He retired in 1991 and died in 1998.


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Mo Udall & Jimmy Carter in the Oval Office




Udall, Lee & Smith


The Udall extended family, which has branches in many Western states, has always listened to quiet, higher causes. Branches include the Hunts, Lees, Stewarts, Kimballs, and Smiths. The Lee branch of the family lives in Utah and the Smith branch hails from Pendleton, Oregon. Mike Lee is a Republican Senator from Utah.  His father, Rex, was a Solicitor General under President Ronald Reagan.  And Gordon Smith is the former Republican Senator from Oregon.  His father, Milan Smith, was an Assistant US Secretary to the Department of Agriculture.


The extended families all bring forth the finest in work ethic and self determination.  They are also creative campaigners.  For example, when Stewart’s son, Tom Udall, ran for the US Senate in New Mexico, he was campaigning at the same time his cousin, Mark Udall, was running for Senate in the bordering state of Colorado.   The cross-state slogan was “Vote for the Udall nearest you!”


Some people have called the Udall Family “the Kennedy’s of the Rockies,” but that moniker did not appear to deter nor motivate them.  They have stayed focused on their constituents and they have stuck proudly to their deepest convictions and Western roots.


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Tom Udall, Senator New Mexico



Mike Lee, Senator Utah




Gordon Smith, former Senator Oregon



Mark Emery Udall


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Mark Udall


Mark Udall was born in Tucson, Arizona in 1950.  A graduate of Williams College in Massachusetts, Mark has been a teacher, an outdoors program director (Outward Bound), a grass-roots leader, and an innovator.  It seems natural that one time or another, Mark would turn to politics.  Mark was first elected as a congressman in Colorado in 1999 and in 2009 he was elected as US Senator.  Mark is well known for his environmental record and his warm, personable style.  Mark serves on three committees, which give him a platform to address many issues critical to his constituents and the country: Armed Services, Energy & Natural Resources, and the Selection Committee on Intelligence.  Also, helping him reinforce his priority to protect Western Lands, Mark chairs the US National Parks Subcommittee. His committee assignments offer him a perch to oversee national security, energy, clean energy jobs, natural resources, and the economy as a whole.


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Mark Udall, Democratic Senator Colorado


Mark married Maggie Fox, who is a strong political force in her own right. She is the President of The Climate Reality Project and for over 30 years she has served in senior capacities with the Sierra Club, America Votes, The Energy Future Coalition, Western Resource Advocates, and The Ocean Conservancy, among others. Maggie has a M.Ed. and a J.D., with emphasis in Native American Natural Resources and Environmental Law.  The Udall’s have two grown children: Jed and Tess, who are both experienced hikers, athletes and climbers.


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Maggie Fox


Barbara Ipsaro, who has known Maggie Fox for many years, says, “Maggie is one of smartest and most capable leaders we have in the state.  Colorado is lucky to have her.  She is terrific.”


Bradley H. Udall


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Brad Udall


Brad Udall has done a lot of cleaning up in his life.  He has been a Grand Canyon river guide with a passion for clean water.  Brad has been a consultant on interstate litigation on the North Platte River, endangered species on the Columbia River, future Front Range supplies, and shortage issues on the Colorado River.  Brad recently accepted a position as Director of the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy & Environment at the CU Law School.  For 10 years before that time, Brad was Director of the Western Water Assessment.  His exceptional professional expertise includes hydrology and related water policy issues of the American West.


Brad, an engineer from Stanford, earned an MBA from Colorado State.  He has written extensively on the impacts of climate change on water resources and was the lead author of the water sector chapter of the Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States (2009), a publication of the United States Global Change Research Program.  He was also an author of the WWA Climate Change in Colorado Report.  Enjoying his visits to Capitol Hill, Brad has provided congressional testimony, input to several National Academy of Science panels, and has given dozens of talks on climate change impacts.



The California Department of Water Resources awarded Brad its Climate Science Service Award for his work in facilitating interactions between water managers and scientists, and the Department of Interior bestowed the Partner in Conservation Award on the Western Water Assessment for his work on the groundbreaking 2007 Environmental Impact Statement on Colorado River shortages and coordinated reservoir operations.  Brad serves on the Water Research Foundation expert panel on climate change.



James Randolph Udall


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Randy Udall



With a brother like Mark ahead of him, Randy had some decisions to make: follow Mark or go it alone and take his own path.  Randy chose to go it alone, but with a twist: surrounded by friends.  He followed Mark to the Cottonwood Gulch and then to Outward Bound, but there, their paths started to diverge.  Instead of going to college in New England, like Mark (Williams College), Randy matriculated in his home state of Arizona (Prescott College).  Instead of going into politics, Randy took up the environmental causes that he held most dear.


Randy Udall always loved climbing.  He married Leslie Emerson, whose father, Dick Emerson, is a legendary climber.  The Udall’s went to the mountains and parks often and took their growing family with them.  They have three children, all of whom are in their 20’s: Ren, Tarn, and Torrey.  


Besides his family, Randy seems to have loved nature the most.  He devoted his professional life to being a conservation rebel with a mad streak of passion.


Mona Newton, Executive Director of the Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE), has known Randy Udall for over 18 years.  Mona says, “He was an environmentalist in the best sense of the word.  He was really grounded in his connection to the natural world. Randy was unafraid to challenge us in what we were doing.”  Mona mentioned that Randy and Leslie retrofitted their home in Carbondale with solar panels.  He often gauged that those panels would keep 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over 20 years.



Solid to the CORE


Auden Schendler, who speaks eloquently about his dear friend, Randy Udall, writes, “He was a pioneer and an innovator.  Among many of his important accomplishments were the development of the first utility green power pricing program in Colorado, a mechanism for utilities to bring clean power online.  He was a brilliant and incisive writer, a master of metaphor who would spend days mulling a turn of phrase. As editor of Rocky Mountain Institute’s newsletter, he brought wit and life to energy writing.”


“In his work at CORE, he developed likely the country’s first carbon tax, imposing a fee on energy intensive development. Like much of Randy’s work, the Renewable Energy Mitigation Program was oddly bipartisan. Many homeowners happily paid the fee, expressing their own desire to help out, to not do harm, to be part of the solution. In the same way, Randy understood that cheap coal and petroleum brought Americans the prosperity we enjoy today, and our solutions must not ignore that debt, and must not sweep the miners and the geologists and the utilities under the carpet. For this, Randy was beloved by coal miners and gas explorers, conservative utility CEO’s and environmentalists alike.”


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“His favorite way of speaking about hard challenges was to say: ‘It seems to make sense to….’ What a wonderful turn of phrase. Together, Randy and I wrote one of the early critiques of LEED, a paper that we hoped would help reform the program. Randy and I can both be too critical and judgmental, but Randy wrote that paper, as he did all his work, out of love and hope, to build, not to destroy.”


“He was non-self promotional to a fault, and to me he often urged humility—what Ben Franklin called the hardest virtue. Despite having a famous name, a brother and a cousin who are senators, an uncle who ran Interior and a Congressman father who doubled the size of the national park system, public spotlight and power were not Randy’s gig. When I told him he ought to radically expand his work at CORE, he said: ‘I have no interest at all in building an empire.’”


“Randy was above all a realist. ‘Like it or not,’ he said of fracking, although ‘many of my friends seem to hate it, this technology has become one of the underpinnings of our civilization, as central to the way we live as the cell phone or computer.’  That realism sometimes led to dark humor.  Randy was known for his shit-eating grin, and it was never clear if you were in on the joke.”


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“For the last decade, Randy had been relentlessly hammering on a key climate problem, and a key solution—methane leaking from coal mines. Destroy methane en-mass, and we can buy ourselves some time to address CO2. After endless denials and failures, he and partner Tom Vessels finally found a willing partner in Jim Cooper, the mine President at the Elk Creek Mine in Somerset.  Aspen Skiing Company was able to finance the project to convert waste methane to electricity, in partnership with another Randy ally, the utility Holy Cross Energy. With 3MW of installed capacity, we have a prototype of a climate solution that crosses partisan boundaries and represents the bleeding edge of cooperation in a divided America.”


“As mine President Jim Cooper emailed me recently: ‘I owe you a conversation on climate change.’  Barriers come down slowly and painfully. Wisdom, or progress, Randy knew, often comes, to quote Aeschylus, ‘against our will … through the awful grace of God.’”


“This is in keeping.  Randy was known for a shocking irreverence that he balanced with a gentle, caring way.  He would feed you chunks of muffin from his hands if he thought you were hungry; leave tomatoes on your porch; hand you red licorice on the trail, then be incommunicado for a month.  I call him a part time warrior because Randy fought and then recharged, engaged in pitched battle, then disappeared into the woods.”



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The Udall’s in Mourning


In a statement from the Udall Family, it said in part: “Randy left this Earth doing what he loved most: hiking in his most favorite mountain range in the world. The entire Udall family is touched beyond words by the tremendous outpouring of support from people around the country.” 


Auden Schendler, a longtime family friend, affirmed, “If there is one quantum of solace, it is that Randy appears to have died very quickly, of perhaps a heart attack or stroke, mid-stride, outward bound on a flat high bench, off trail in the Wind River Range, his favorite place on earth.  Just as we ought to be, he was girded for battle.  He had his pack on his back, hiking poles in hand, certainly feeling the lightness and joy we all feel heading out on a new journey.”


Randy’s cousin, former Oregon Senator, Gordon Smith wrote: “Like his innumerable Udall kinsmen, Randy believed in and respected Nature and Nature’s God, and he pursued the path of that family ethic throughout his turn on Earth, even to his last mortal day. May the Creator of Heaven and Earth keep and care for him, always.”


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