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Mo Udall
File:Morris Udall.jpg
Chair of the House Interior Committee

In office
January 3, 1977 – May 4, 1991
Preceded by James A. Haley
Succeeded by George Miller
Member of the United States House of Representatives
In office
May 2, 1961 – May 4, 1991
Preceded by Stewart Udall
Succeeded by Ed Pastor
Personal details
Born Morris King Udall
(1922-06-15)June 15, 1922
St. Johns, Arizona, U.S.
Died December 12, 1998(1998-12-12) (aged 76)
Washington, D.C., U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Patricia Emery (1949–1966)
Ella Royston (1968–1988)
Norma Gilbert (1989–1998)
Children 5 (including Mark)
Military service
Allegiance  United States
Service/branch  United States Army
United States Army Air Forces
Years of service 1942–1946
Rank US-O3 insignia.svg Captain

Morris King Udall (June 15, 1922 – December 12, 1998) was an American politician who served as a U.S. Representative from Arizona from May 2, 1961 to May 4, 1991. Noted for his liberal views, Udall was a tall (6'5"), Lincolnesque figure with a self-deprecating wit and easy manner. Because of his wit, columnist James J. Kilpatrick deemed him "too funny to be president", which also ended up being the title of his autobiography in the 1980s. Born in St. Johns, Arizona, Udall was the son of Levi Stewart Udall, who served on the Arizona Supreme Court from 1946 to 1960. After serving in the United States Army during World War II, Udall graduated from the University of Arizona's law school. He played professional basketball with the Denver Nuggets during the 1948-1949 National Basketball League season. In 1961, he won a special election to succeed his brother, Stewart Udall, as the congressman for Arizona's 2nd congressional district.

Udall sought the Democratic nomination in the 1976 presidential election, but was defeated by Jimmy Carter. He supported Ted Kennedy's strong challenge to Carter in the 1980 Democratic primaries, and Udall delivered the keynote address at the 1980 Democratic National Convention. He served as Chairman of the House Interior Committee from 1977 to 1991. Diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1980, Udall resigned from Congress in 1991 as the effects of the disease worsened. His son, Mark Udall, represented Colorado in the United States Senate from 2009 to 2015.

Early life[]

Udall was born in St. Johns, Arizona, a son of Louisa (née Lee) and Levi Stewart Udall, a lawyer who served as Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court. He lost his right eye to a friend's pocket knife at the age of six, while the two were attempting to cut some string, and wore a glass eye for the rest of his life.[1] He attempted to enlist in the Army during World War II, and almost succeeded, by covering his glass eye each time he was told to alternate during the eye exam. After he was medically cleared, another potential enlistee complained that he had been medically rejected for flat feet, while Udall had passed with one eye. The examiners retested Udall under closer scrutiny, and he was rejected. Later, medical standards changed and Udall served in the Army until the end of the war.

Later, Udall attended the University of Arizona, where he was a star basketball player and a member of Sigma Chi Fraternity. He played for the Denver Nuggets for one year following graduation as well as attending the University of Denver school of law, and then returned to the University of Arizona for law school, where he graduated in 1949.

Political career[]

In 1961, his brother Stewart Udall, the congressman for Arizona's 2nd congressional district, was appointed Secretary of the Interior in the Kennedy administration. Udall won a special election for his brother's vacant seat by only 2,000 votes. He won the seat in his own right in 1962, and was reelected 13 more times. He only faced one close race, in 1978, when he received 52 percent of the vote.

For his first term, he represented the entire state outside of Maricopa County. After the 1960s round of redistricting, his district was cut back to the southern portion of the state, centered on Tucson. After a mid-decade redistricting ordered as a result of Wesberry v. Sanders, his district absorbed some outer portions of the Phoenix area.

Presidential campaign[]

In 1976, he ran for the Democratic nomination for president as a liberal alternative to Jimmy Carter, the former Governor of Georgia. Carter had gone from obscure maverick to front runner after a string of early caucus and primary victories, beginning in Iowa and New Hampshire. At the time of the Wisconsin primary in April, most of the original 10 candidates had dropped out, leaving Udall, Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson of Washington, Governor George Wallace of Alabama, and Carter. Udall looked set to win the primary and as the returns ticked in, it looked like he would win it. This might have slowed down the Carter momentum. Udall was projected the winner, exclaiming "Oh, how sweet it is". But as the election night progressed, Carter began chipping away at Udall's lead, eventually going into the lead.

Mo Udall with John F. Kennedy at the White House, May 18, 1961.

Some newspapers actually proclaimed Udall the winner because of his lead the night before, not unlike the famous incident in the 1948, in which the headlines of the Chicago Tribune erroneously proclaimed "Dewey Defeats Truman."

Carter's win was by 1%, which was no more than 7,500 votes. He won 37% to Udall's 36%, gaining one more convention delegate than Udall. Despite the small margins, Carter got the headlines and a further boost to his momentum, pulling away from Udall and the other candidates. In the end, Udall finished second in the New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, New York, Michigan, South Dakota, and Ohio primaries, and won the caucuses in his home state of Arizona, while running even with Carter in the New Mexico caucuses. Udall finished a distant second place to Carter at the Democratic National Convention, where his name was placed in nomination by Archibald Cox, and Udall's speech received great applause from his supporters.

During the Michigan primary, the Carter campaign had Coleman Young, the mayor of Detroit, accuse Udall of racism for belonging to the LDS church, which at the time, did not allow blacks to serve in the church's priesthood (since changed in 1978 by LDS Church President, Spencer W. Kimball). Udall had been a longtime critic of that church policy, and had ceased being an active member because of it. Carter's subsequent sweeping of the black vote in the Michigan primary was key to his crucial and narrow victory in Michigan.

Udall supported Senator Edward Kennedy's challenge to President Carter in 1980, and Kennedy won the Arizona caucuses, one of only three wins for Kennedy in the west. Udall delivered the keynote speech at the 1980 Democratic convention, which was a typically witty Udall speech. Udall considered running for president again in 1984, but he had been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 1980 and his illness kept him on the sidelines. At the convention that summer, Udall introduced his old foe, President Carter.


In 1992, the US Congress founded the Morris K. Udall Scholarship and Excellence in National Environmental Policy Foundation.[2] It is an agency of the executive branch of the federal government, and among other functions, gives scholarships to students of environmental policy. In 2009, Congress added Mo's brother, Stewart Udall, into the foundation by renaming it the Morris K. Udall and Stewart L. Udall Foundation.

Federal funds for Parkinson's research are designated through the Morris K. Udall Parkinson's Disease Research Act of 1997.[3] The legislation funded a national network of "Centers of Excellence" to diagnose and treat Parkinson disease patients and to refer patients into research protocols.

In 1996 Morris received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Clinton.

Udall was married three times. He married Patricia Emery in 1949, with whom he had six children. Udall and Emery divorced in 1966 and two years later he married Ella Lee Royston, a marriage that would last until Royston's death in 1988. In 1989, he married his third wife, Norma Gilbert, who has two grown daughters and one grown son, and they remained together until his death in 1998.[4]

Morris Udall's son Mark Udall was elected to the U.S. Congress from Colorado's 2nd district in 1998 and to the U.S. Senate in 2008. His nephew Tom Udall of New Mexico was also elected to the U.S. Senate in 2008, while second cousin Senator Gordon Smith of Oregon was defeated for re-election the same year.

In Tucson, Arizona, the main post office and a city park are named in his honor. Point Udall on Guam, considered the westernmost point of the United States, is also named for him.


  1. Kaufman, Burton Ira (2006). "The Carter years". pp. 485. ISBN 978-0-8160-5369-8. Retrieved 2011-09-19. 
  2. Pub.L. 102–259, 106 Stat. 78, S. 2184, enacted March 19, 1992.
  3. Pub.L. 105–78, title VI, §603, November 13, 1997, 111 Stat. 1519, (42 U.S.C. § 284f)
  4. "Environmental Leader Rep. Mo Udall Dies". December 14, 1998. Retrieved October 27, 2014. 

Further reading[]

  • Carson, Donald W., and Johnson, James W., 2004, Mo: The Life and Times of Morris K. Udall . Tucson, AZ: University of Arizona Press. (ISBN 0816524491)

External links[]

United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Stewart Udall
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Arizona's 2nd congressional district

Succeeded by
Ed Pastor
Political offices
Preceded by
James A. Haley
Chair of the House Interior Committee
Succeeded by
George Miller
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Glenn
Barbara Jordan
Keynote Speaker at the Democratic National Convention
Succeeded by
Mario Cuomo

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