Obit: James ‘Randy’ Udall
James “Randy” Udall, a native son of the American West, died June 20, 2013,
on the eve of the Summer Solstice, doing what he loved most, hiking in the remote Wind River Mountains. He was 61 years old. The cause of his death: natural.
Randy was both a visionary and a pragmatist. Known for the size of his heart and the breadth of his wild mind, Randy Udall was all about energy: physical and mental. His expertise on domestic and international energy sustainability was singular, both as a free-lance writer and as an advocate. In 1984, he co-founded the nonprofit Community Office for Resource Efficiency (CORE) in Carbondale, Colorado, where he served for 13 years as director. CORE’s partnerships with electric utilities and local governments led to Colorado’s first solar energy incentive program, the world’s first Renewable Energy Mitigation Program and some of the most progressive green power purchasing programs in America.
In 2005, Randy co-founded the Association for the Study of Peak Oil-USA to track the shifting balance between world oil supply and depletion. He was a brilliant communicator, owned by no one, plain-spoken, humble, and nuanced. He was a celebrated speaker engaging audiences world-wide on the complexities of energy development. He was the rare thought leader who put his thoughts into action. Randy’s home in Carbondale was retrofitted with solar panels that he often shared would keep 300,000 pounds of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere over 20 years. The energy bill on his 2,000-square-foot home was a mere $300 per year.
Randy Udall told hard truths: “We have been living like gods,” he often said. “Our task now is to learn how to live like humans. Our descent will not be easy.”
Randy Udall was born on October 29, 1951, in Tucson, Ariz., to former Arizona Congressman Morris K. Udall and Patricia Emery Udall. His education was informed by Prescott College and the University of Denver, but he graduated from neither. He subscribed to what John Wesley Powell called “a home-grown education” driven by place and fueled by curiosity. His path of inquiry was grounded in auto mechanics, carpentry, a commitment to writing, environmental studies, and advocacy. He also worked for Outward Bound as a wilderness instructor. Instinct, intuition, and experience became the bedrock of his uncommon wisdom.
Randy belonged to a respected political family. Alongside the distinguished political career of his father, he was the nephew of Stewart Udall, Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, from whom he drew great inspiration. His eldest brother Mark Udall and his cousin Tom Udall currently represent Colorado and New Mexico in the U.S. Senate. With his usual wit and candor, he often apologized for politicians in the West, but he never abandoned his family’s commitment to public service and embrace of the open space of democracy.
In the 1980s, Randy reported on the Sanctuary Movement for the Tucson Citizen, riding the underground railroad and listening to the plight of the refugees it carried from Central America to the United States. He was the first reporter to break the story of the Tucson Sanctuary Movement nationally and garner support and justice for them. Through his writing, Randy continually sought to give voice to others and to the land. “I love forms beyond my own, and regret the borders between us,” wrote Loren Eiseley, one of Randy’s favorite authors.
In 1987, Randy co-authored “Too Funny To Be President” with his father, Mo Udall, and Bob Neuman. And in 1993, he collaborated with his uncle Stewart Udall and renowned photographer David Muench on the book, “National Parks of America.”
He was a man who loved words and big ideas. As much as he loved to climb mountains, he loved the landscape of public discourse. Randy will be remembered as an extraordinary listener and a lively raconteur. He gave dignity to his conversations, be it with a roughneck on an oil patch or testing and charming an environmentalist over beer. He was at home with those who cared. His alliances were creative and brave. He possessed an open mind, and at times, a fierce one, calling for an ethics of a place. Randy did not hesitate to go toe-to-toe with oil executives, calling for accountability, when discussing the realities of peak oil.
But most of all, Randy Udall loved all things wild: skiing across Baffin Island in the 1976; casting a line of light on a meandering river; hiking the Colorado Rockies with his children. In an email to his daughter Tarn, when rafting with her brother down the Tatshenshini River in Alaska, he said simply, lovingly, “Stay warm, stay fed, and feed the morale meter, too.” He was a man of paradoxes: a loner and a communitarian; joyful and brooding; present one minute and gone, the next. And his vast frame of reference was apparent by the diversity on his bookshelves with Mary Oliver’s “Collected Poems” next to “A Field Guide to Geology”; Ivan Doig’s nonfiction shelved next to “The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power” by Daniel Yergin. When Wallace Stegner admonished Westerners “to create a society to match the scenery,” this was the joyous life work of Randy Udall.
Randy is survived by his beloved wife, Leslie Emerson and their three children, Ren, Tarn, and Torrey Udall; his five siblings: Mark Udall (wife, Maggie Fox), Judith Udall (husband, Ben Harding), Anne Udall (partner, Tillie Clark), Brad Udall (wife, Jane Backer), and Kate Udall; and his nephews, Jed Udall and Clay Harding, and niece, Tess Udall. He also leaves behind his cousin, Tom Udall, alongside Denis Udall, Scott Udall, Lynn Udall, Lori Udall, and Jay Udall. He is preceded in death by his father, Morris K. Udall, his mother, Patricia Emery Udall, his uncle Stewart Udall, and his nephew Luke Harding.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: The Randy Udall Memorial Fund, Alpine Bank, 350 Highway 133, Carbondale, Colorado, 81623. Donations will support youth in action.
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A driver looking to squeeze one last four-wheel drive up Aspen Mountain discovered that it’s not the ascent but the descent that poses a challenge.