Skip to comments.Former Senator Who Founded Earth Day Dies (Gaylord Nelson)
Posted on 07/03/2005 7:21:22 AM PDT by Borges
MILWAUKEE - Gaylord Nelson, the former governor and U.S. senator from Wisconsin who founded Earth Day and helped spawn the modern environmental movement, died Sunday. He was 89.
Nelson died of cardiovascular failure at his home in Kensington, Md., a Washington suburb, said Bill Christofferson, Nelson's biographer and a family spokesman.
"He died peacefully. His wife was with him," Christofferson said.
Thirty-five years after the first Earth Day, April 22 is still a day on which many people plant trees, clean up trash and lobby for a clean environment.
A conservationist years before it became fashionable, Nelson was recognized as one of the world's foremost environmental leaders. Then- President Clinton presented Nelson with a Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1995 for his environmental efforts.
"As the father of Earth Day, he is the grandfather of all that grew out of that event: the Environmental Protection Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act," read the proclamation from Clinton.
"Gaylord's contributions in the fields of conservation reform and environmental improvement are a living memorial to him," Melvin Laird, a nine-term congressman from Wisconsin and secretary of defense in the Nixon administration, said in a statement before the death was announced.
Nelson entered public life in 1948 as a Wisconsin state senator from Dane County, a position he held for 10 years. In 1958, Nelson became only the second Democrat during the 20th century to be elected governor of Wisconsin.
While in office, Nelson used a penny-a-pack tax on cigarettes to pay for the Outdoor Recreation Acquisition Program in 1961. The program allowed Wisconsin to buy hundreds of thousands of acres of park land, wetlands and other open space.
After two two-year terms, Nelson was elected in 1962 to the U.S. Senate, unseating 78-year-old incumbent Republican Alexander Wiley.
In his three terms, he championed conservation policies, including legislation to preserve the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail and create a national hiking system.
Nelson's most recognized effort, however, was Earth Day, which he started as an environmental demonstration based on the anti-war teach-ins of the Vietnam War.
"It suddenly occurred to me, why not have a nationwide teach-in on the environment," Nelson said. He announced his idea at a speech in Seattle in September 1969, and it "took off like gangbusters."
The first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, attracted an estimated 20 million people. Tens of thousands of people filled New York's Fifth Avenue, Congress adjourned so members could speak across the nation, and at least 2,000 colleges marked the occasion.
Nelson once said Earth Day worked because "it organized itself. The idea was out there and everybody grabbed it. I wanted a demonstration by so many people that politicians would say, `Holy cow, people care about this.' That's just what Earth Day did."
In 1972, Sen. George McGovern, the Democratic presidential nominee, sought out Nelson as a potential running-mate. Nelson said no.
"Behind his humor and behind the sort of rough-cut, down-to-earth manner, there was always a person of sober conviction," McGovern said later.
Nelson continued to represent Wisconsin in the Senate until he was narrowly defeated in 1980 by Robert W. Kasten Jr., one of a raft of Republicans swept into office with Ronald Reagan.
He joined the Washington-based Wilderness Society and served as its full-time legal counselor. William H. Meadows, the group's president, called Nelson the "founding father of the modern environmental community."
In the Wilderness Society, Nelson more and more focused his attention on the world's quickly multiplying population. When he was born in 1916, the world's population was about 1.8 billion and it grew to nearly 6 billion in 1999.
"The wealth of the nation is air, water, soil, forest, scenic beauty, wildlife habitat take that away and all that's left is a wasteland," he said in a June 1999 address to the Wisconsin Legislature.
Nelson grew up in the northern Wisconsin town of Clear Lake and later said he learned to love the outdoors "by osmosis" and learned frugality from his father, a country doctor who conserved paper by writing his patient profiles on the back of drug advertisements.
Nelson earned his bachelor's degree from San Jose State College in California and received his law degree from the University of Wisconsin in 1942. He served in the Army during World War II before returning to Madison to set up his law practice.
In 1947, he married Carrie Lee Dotson, an Army nurse he had met in Pennsylvania. They had two sons, Gaylord Jr. and Jeffrey, and a daughter, Tia.
I could say so much, but I will respect the dead. RIP.
he'd lived longer if hadn't been sucking on those oldsmobile tailpipes.
those be toxic!
OK, he's gone now.
Now can we PLEASE start drilling off of all American coastlines and building nuke reactors?!
Thank you for the helpful reminder - I too have a lot to say but will hold my tongue.
He had a little Gaylord Jr.
"Yes. My real name is Gaylord. Gaylord Focker."
The first Earth Day was held on Lenin's 100th Birthday. It was meant to be a secular humanist/communist holiday to eventually replace Easter.
"[www.CapMag.com] In 1955, then Soviet Premier, Nikita Krushchev ordered April 22nd be designated a day to celebrate Communism. In 1970, it was chosen to be Earth Day by Gaylord Nelson, one of the founders of the event. Those founders had 365 days from which to choose. They chose Lenin's birthday."
I hear it was 4/22 because of Eddie Albert's Birthday. He was an early enviornmentalist as well.
Well, at least Eddie Albert could be funny. There was nothing funny about Gaylord Nelson, other than his name.
Nothing became him in life like his leaving it...
Why? When you could say a lot with so little:
Nothing became him in life like his leaving it.
Nothing became him in life like his leaving it.
It's a felony in Texas.
Wow. No kidding. The land grabs that arose form this movement are obviously communist oriented ( complete with "pretty name" propaganda ). "Environmentalism" (for our own good).
Another example of "once they've seen DC they never come home."
I remember that crank from way back. I'd hoped he'd already rung down the mortal curtain. Can't say I'm sad to see another enemy of the Republic go.
The kindly Gaylord lived for the Marxist common good, where he believed that rats, cockroaches and snakes have more rights than individual citizens.
He sincerely embraced the primary fascist tenet that the state should control all private property to carry out the wishes of the state. The individual's primary duty is to manage his private property for the good of the state. Failing that, the private property of the offending individual should be seized and given to a more agreeable sheep.
He is survived by a United States Supreme Court that recently ruled you no longer own your property. In fact, it belongs to the imperial state that may give it to another private owner who might provide more common good - money - than you can.
A grand jury has been convened to look into that. Charges will be filed.