The Udall name has dominated Arizona’s political landscape and beyond for the better part of the 20th century, with Morris King Udall, affectionately known as Mo, the only member of the family to reach for the presidency of the United States — so far.
But as Mo recounted many times, Arizona is the only state in the nation where mothers do not tell their sons they can grow up to become president. He failed to snatch the Democratic nomination from Jimmy Carter in 1976, thus returning to his seat in Congress that he occupied for 30 years. Mo’s brother, Stewart Lee Udall, rose to a Cabinet post as secretary of the Interior Department, serving a full eight years during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations.
In his 1988 book, “Too Funny to Be President,” Mo recalled his devastating 1976 loss to Carter in the Wisconsin Democratic presidential primary. Udall had claimed victory, went to bed happily thinking he had taken a large step toward the White House, and awoke the next morning to learn that he had again come in second. Even the early edition of the Milwaukee Sentinel had proclaimed Udall the winner. Displaying his easy-going sense of humor, Udall told the waiting press to take his statements from the previous night and replace the word “win” with “lose.”
About his second place finish, he told reporters: “In the grand scheme of things, not everyone can be first. As you may recall, even George Washington, the father of our country, married a widow.”
When Mo retired from Congress in 1991, a victim of debilitating Parkinson’s Disease, David Broder of The Washington Post wrote: “The legacy he left is imposing and enduring, it ranges from strip mining and Alaska wilderness legislation to the reform of archaic committee and floor procedures that congressional barons had used to conceal their arbitrary power. For a whole generation of congressmen, Udall became a mentor and a model.”
Mo, who was born in St. Johns in 1922, suffered a serious childhood mishap, losing his right eye at the age of 6 while he and a friend were using a pocketknife. In 1949, he earned a law degree from the University of Arizona, where he was a star basketball player, and played a year of professional basketball with the Denver Nuggets.
He was elected to Congress in a special election in May 1961, to fill the vacancy created when Stewart resigned to join the Kennedy Cabinet. He was re-elected every two years, and resigned in May 1991. He had served as chairman of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs from the 95th Congress through the 102nd Congress. Mo died on Dec. 12, 1998, in Washington, D.C.
Both Udall brothers were deeply committed to preserving and enhancing the environment. Stewart was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1954, serving on the Interior and Insular Affairs Committee from 1955 to 1960. He also served on a Joint Committee on Navajo-Hopi Indian Administration.
In 1960, Stewart persuaded Arizona Democrats to support Sen. John F. Kennedy at the Democratic National Convention. Kennedy won the nomination and presidency, and as a reward appointed Stewart as secretary of the Interior Department.
Stewart was born in St. Johns in 1920. He attended the University of Arizona, where he played basketball and earned a law degree. Shortly after graduating from the university in 1948, he started his own law practice. About two years later, he and Mo opened a law firm in Tucson.
Stewart played a key role in enacting the Wilderness Act of 1964, the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966, the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965, the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965, the National Trail System Act of 1968, and Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of 1968. During his tenure as Interior secretary, he also oversaw 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.
After leaving his Cabinet position in 1969, Stewart taught for a year at the Yale University School of Forestry. He died March 20, 2010, in Santa Fe, N.M.
Before the Udall brothers invaded Washington D.C., and afterward, the Udall name was and is a part of political history.
Levi Stewart Udall, the father of Stewart and Mo and four other Udall offspring, had an illustrious public service career. Born in 1891 in St. Johns, he served for 28 years in the Apache County Courthouse in various public service positions, including Superior Court judge from 1931 to 1946. In January 1947, Levi became a member of the Arizona Supreme Court, a position he held until his death in 1960.
He was the brother of Jesse Addison Udall, who was born in 1893 near Eagar. Jesse, an uncle of Mo and Stewart’s, likewise had a stellar public service career. Shortly after he graduated from the University of Arizona Law School in 1924, he was elected county attorney of Graham County. He served as a member of the Arizona Legislature from 1931 to 1938, as a Graham County Superior Court judge from 1939 to 1942, and from 1953 to 1958, and as a justice and chief justice of the state Supreme Court from 1960 to 1972.
To honor the man who had contributed much to the state and its quality of life, Gov. Jack Williams proclaimed Sunday, March 26, 1976, as “Justice Jesse A. Udall Day.”
The Udall family continues in politics. U.S. Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., is Mo’s son. His first cousin is U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., the son of Stewart Udall. Both were born in Tucson: Tom in 1948 and Mark in 1950. Before Mark was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008, he served in the Colorado House of Representatives from 1997 to 1999, and in the U.S. House from 1999 to 2008.
Tom was New Mexico’s attorney general from 1991 to 1998, when he was elected to the U.S. House. Like his cousin, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008.
Morris King Udall
• Nickname: Mo
• Born: 1922, St. Johns
• Served in Congress: 1961-1991
• Chiarman, Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs: 1977-1991
• Died: Dec. 12, 1998, Washington, D.C.