Pioneer in national conservation movement dies at 101

Posted: Tuesday, October 21, 2003

CHEYENNE, Wyo. - Conservationist Margaret "Mardy" Murie, considered by many the mother of the modern conservation movement, has died. She was 101.

Murie, who was instrumental in enacting the Wilderness Act and creating the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, died Sunday at her ranch in Grand Teton National Park. She was to be laid to rest during a private family ceremony, with a public memorial planned at The Murie Center on her ranch later this year. No dates were immediately announced.

Murie and her late husband, Olaus, a wildlife biologist, are credited with sowing the seeds for the 1964 Wilderness Act - which banned development on millions of acres in national forests, parks and other land - and creation of the wildlife refuge.

Murie, who also helped found the Grand Teton Science School in Jackson, recruited former Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas to help persuade President Eisenhower to set aside eight million acres in Alaska as an arctic wildlife range. The area was later expanded to 19 million acres and renamed the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in 1980.

She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1998 by President Clinton, who called her "a pioneer of the environmental movement." In 1980, she received the Audubon Medal and won the Sierra Club's John Muir Award in 1981. She was also named an honorary ranger by the National Park Service.

Ralph Tingey, acting superintendent of Grand Teton, said the Muries were instrumental in the park's creation in 1929, and Mardy Murie continued to be a "gracious neighbor" over the next 75 years.

"The passing of Mardy Murie at age 101 marks the final milestone in a remarkable life dedicated to conservation advocacy," he said. "Her legacy lives on in the philosophy and activities of The Murie Center, established in 1997 to carry on the work of defending wilderness."

Bob Ekey, Northern Rockies regional director of The Wilderness Society, said he regards Murie and her late husband - a former president of the group - as heroes. He said Mardy Murie remained closely involved with the group in her old age and committed to conservation, whether testifying before lawmakers in Washington or talking to young people over cookies at her ranch in Moose.

"One of her great contributions was to guide and inspire young people," Ekey said. "People in every state of the nation and probably every campaign that goes on to protect wildlands today was inspired, in some way, by her."

What separated Murie from other conservationists was how she expressed her views - firmly but with eloquence and grace, said Nancy Shea, executive director of The Murie Center.

"She could turn this environmental stuff into a very personal thing, and I think that's what touched people, this sense that, it can be as much about you as it was about me," Shea said. "For her, environmental work was about the whole person, mind and body and spirit, and a personal connection."

The goal of the center is to carry on the legacy with programs for adults and young people and "to create many more Mardy and Olaus Muries, people so touched by their story that they want to go out and make a difference in their own lives," Shea said.

There won't be a museum, though, Shea said. Murie and her son, Donald, didn't want that.

"They wanted to make this a living, active, vital center that is inspiring people," she said.

Born in 1902 in Seattle, Murie grew up in Fairbanks, where she met her husband and became the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska.

The two married in 1924, and Mardy and Olaus embarked on a life of travel and scientific exploration, including a dog sled honeymoon in Alaska. For years, Olaus Murie worked as a biologist with state and federal agencies, assigned to explore unmapped areas and study wildlife.

His work led them back to Alaska and to the mountains surrounding Jackson, Wyo., where they bought a home and became active in the community. In 1944, the couple bought their ranch in Moose - a former dude ranch which became a center for the conservation and wilderness community.

Murie is survived by her sister, Louise "Weezy" Murie-MacLeod; three children, Martin, Joanne and Donald; nine grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.



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