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Eulogy of Morris K. Udall


An anonymous poet wrote that, "virtue is a man's monument." Undoubtedly, the wise poet had in mind a soul the likes of Morris King Udall, a man of monumental virtue.

Mo Udall was an extraordinary human being who lived an extraordinary life. Of humble beginnings, the son of St. Johns, Arizona rose to become one of the most influential and beloved legislators in the history of our Republic.

Although we mourn the loss of a husband, a father, a brother, a friend and a national treasure, we also give thanks for the gift of his company. We remember his brave journey. And, we celebrate a remarkable life well-lived.

For over 30 years, Mo Udall graced our national and political life with his sweet humility, gentle kindness and legendary wit. A man of keen vision and great heart, he exemplified all that is good and decent about public service.

Mo Udall was what we all want our leaders to be. He was a powerful man who cared not about power for its own sake, but saw it as an opportunity -- a sacred responsibility to do good as he saw it -- to champion noble causes. His many important successes are written in the laws of our nation.

His legacy endures in the halls of the Congress, with men and women whom he humbled and instructed with his example. It endures among Native Americans whose welfare and progress he made his great purpose. And, it endures in the American parks and wildlands he fought to protect with his vision and his guiding ethic of environmental stewardship.

As President Clinton noted, it is fitting that the easternmost point of the United States, in the Virgin Islands, and the westernmost point, in Guam are both named Udall point. The sun, he said, will never set on the legacy of Mo Udall. And he was right.

Carl Albert, former Speaker of the House, said that Mo had written one of the most remarkable legislative records of all time. And he was right.

But, Mo Udall will not be remembered simply for his prolific legislative achievements or the landmarks that bear his name. His most extraordinary monument is the virtue with which he lived his life and served his country.

He fought the good fight in a tough arena, while remaining a man of unsurpassed integrity, boundless compassion and unfailing good humor. He knew glorious victories and bitter defeats, serene contentment and profound suffering. Through it all he remained a humble man of uncommon decency whose example offers a stark contrast to the meanness, pettiness and pride that soil too much of our political culture.

Mo was never known to be moved by flattery, puffed by tribute, or impressed by his own success. He knew that a man is only as great as the cause he serves -- a cause that should be greater than himself.

Nor did we ever know Mo to be discouraged in defeat. Through injury, illness, disappointment and from time to time, failure, he was a fighter.

His humble perspective was as wise as it was delightful to observe. He leavened his wisdom with his legendary wit. Mo employed humor not simply to entertain, which he did like no other, but as a subtle and benevolent instrument to calm troubled waters, to instruct the unknowing, to humble the arrogant, and to inspire us all to be better and to do better.

Most often he was the target of his own barbs. He loved to tell the story about his campaign visit to a local barbershop where he announced his run for the presidency, and, as Mo told it, the barber answered, "we know we were just laughing about that." Most certainly an apocryphal story, but typical of Mo to tell it on himself.

Mo once said, "The best political humor, however, sharp or pointed, has a little love behind it. It's the spirit of the humor that counts...over the years it has served me when nothing else could." It has served us well too.

While most remembrances of Mo focus on his grace, humor, and environmental leadership, perhaps understated, is what he did for Native Americans. When very few cared enough, Mo Udall toiled in an often fruitless and thankless vineyard on Indian issues. Moved by their desperate poverty; duty bound to honor the dignity of the first Americans and the solemn commitments made to them, Mo took up their just cause. He didn't do it for praise or recognition, he did it because it was the right thing to do. That was all the motivation and thanks he needed, and it characterized so aptly the benevolence of his political life.

How proud Mo must be, and how appropriate it is, that a new generation of Udalls have entered Congress. To Mark and Tom, may your careers, like Mo's, light the way to more enlightened and civil public discourse, and may you, too, be known for the virtue and grace exemplified by your beloved forebear. I know you will. You have our prayers.

The Navajo say "May you walk in beauty." All his days, Mo Udall walked in beauty and he shared his beauty generously with us all. He is gone now. And, we will miss him. His suffering has ended. God has called our friend home.

And in our mournful reflections, may we find cheer in the echoes of Mo Udall, the little boy from St. John's who became a giant, touching us one more time with those words we always loved to hear, . . . "I'm reminded of a story."

May each of us -- may our country -- forever find cheer, instruction and inspiration in his story. A story of monumental virtue. The remarkable story of Morris K. Udall.

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