Ruckelshaus Receives Medal of Freedom
William Ruckelshaus, whose name adorns the University of Wyoming’s Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources, received a Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama yesterday. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Ruckelshaus was described by the White House as “a dedicated public servant who has worked tirelessly to protect public health and combat global challenges like climate change.”
Before becoming emeritus, Ruckelshaus served as a board member of the UW Institute of Environment and Natural Resources for nine years. He received an honorary doctorate from UW in 1998, and the institute was named in his honor in 2002. Ruckelshaus forged a long, distinguished career.
He served in several positions to which he was presidentially appointed. Perhaps most notably, Ruckelshaus was the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency under President Richard Nixon from 1970-73. In that role, he was instrumental in crafting the agency’s guiding principles.
The EPA established a national ban on the harmful pesticide DDT under his leadership and set a requirement for catalytic converters on motor vehicles that greatly reduced pollution.
For a short time, Ruckelshaus served as deputy attorney general and acting director of the FBI before he resigned in 1973, as a means of protesting Nixon’s efforts to fire the special prosecutor of Watergate. Ten years later, he again led the EPA from 1983-85 after an appointment from President Ronald Reagan.
At the 1993 invitation of US Sen. Alan Simpson, Ruckelshaus came to UW to serve as a founding chairman on the board of the newly established Institute of Environment and Natural Resources that would dedicate itself to collaborative methods of working through natural resource challenges.
He facilitated civil discourse among the representatives of diverse interests so that all those affected could have work together to resolve the issue at hand.
Ruckelshaus once summed up that approach when he said, “Everyone has to be in the boat rowing. You can’t leave anyone on shore, because those are the people most apt to heave rocks as the boat goes by.”
His courage in resisting President Nixon's orders to fire the Watergate Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, is also remembered as the "Saturday Night Massacre." He resigned rather than follow that order.
Ruckelshaus and 16 other Medal of Freedom recipients were honored at the White House on Tuesday.