BISBEE — The Bisbee Women’s Club will feature a documentary on the life and legacy of Arizona environmental advocate Stewart Udall on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at the clubhouse on Quality Hill.
The film is titled “Stuart Udall and the Politics of Beauty.”
Udall is a former Secretary of the Interior and an environmental and social justice advocate, who filmmaker and director John de Graff calls “the most effective environmentalist in American history. He fought tirelessly for the protection of our planet and its natural beauty. He was the first public official to speak out against global warming.”
De Graff, an award–winning Public Broadcasting Service veteran, includes interviews with Udall family members, including the former U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and brother Burr of Tucson, as well as current Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, former Arizona governor and Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt, former U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith, Navajo artist Shonto Begay, former National Park Service director Robert Stanton, Udall biographer Thomas Smith, noted Presidential historian Douglas Brinkley, Udall aide Sharon Francis, Udall friend Jack Loeffler and others. The film is narrated by actor Kate Udall, Stewart’s niece.
The 75–minute documentary follows the trajectory of his remarkable life from his childhood in a Mormon ranching family in St. Johns to his final 20 years as a resident of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Biographer Thomas G. Smith wrote about Udall’s unlikely life path in life as the son of a Mormon rancher, bishop and attorney. He grew up during the height of the Great Depression, without electricity and running water in an isolated desert hamlet on the Little Colorado River.
Udall was born Jan. 31, 1920, in St. Johns. He is the son of former Arizona Supreme Court Justice Levi S. Udall and Louise Lee Udall. His brother is former Congressman Morris “Mo” K. Udall.
His brother called St. Johns, “a town so small you could put the Entering and Leaving signs on the same post.” Its current mayor is a Udall. Many of Udall’s fellow students in St. Johns were Hispanic or Native American and he grew to deeply appreciate their cultures.
According to his biography written decades ago by an unknown author with the University of Arizona, Udall was elected to Congress in 1954 and served on the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs from 1955 to 1960; the House Education and Labor Committee from 1955 to 1956; and the House Committee on Education and Labor from 1957 to 1960. From 1957 to 1958, Stewart served on a Joint Committee on Navajo Hopi Indian Administration.
Stewart was instrumental in persuading Arizona Democrats to support Sen. John F. Kennedy during the 1960 Democratic Nomination Convention. He was appointed by President Kennedy to serve as Secretary of the Interior, a position he held for nine years.
Highlights from his cabinet career are The Wilderness Bill, The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and the expansion of the National Park System to include four new national parks, six new national monuments, eight seashores and lakeshores, nine recreation areas, 20 historic sites and 56 wildlife refuges. He created the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
After leaving government service in 1969, Stewart taught for a year at Yale University’s School of Forestry as a visiting professor of Environmental Humanism.
During the energy crisis in the 1970s, Stewart advocated the use of solar energy as one remedy to the crisis.
He pressed the courts and Congress to compensate uranium workers and their families for damages suffered while living near and working in uranium mines during the Cold War years.
As a member of the Natural Resources Defense Council, Stewart defended the Environmental Protection Agency against closure due to budgetary cuts.
Stewart was elected to the Central Arizona Water Conservation Board and commissioned as a member of the Arizona Parks Task Force.
Udall moved from Phoenix to Santa Fe in 1989, where he maintained an active life of writing, traveling, hiking and advocating for the protection of the environment. His son, Tom, was elected to the U.S. Senate from New Mexico in 2008.
In an effort to recognize and honor the important contributions of both Udall brothers, Congress enacted legislation in 2009 changing the name of the Morris K. Udall Foundation, located in Tucson, to the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.
Though Udall died at 90 in 2010, he is still highly regarded as an author, historian, scholar, lecturer, environmental activist, lawyer, naturalist and citizen of the outdoors.
De Graff said the film was made possible, in part, by a generous donation from PNM/Avangrid, a regulated utility and renewable energy platform in New Mexico, and several other funders, including 200 individuals.