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Former Senator Who Founded Earth Day Dies

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050703/ap_on_re_us/obit_nelson Former Senator Who Founded Earth Day Dies By RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 3, 2005
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      http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050703/ap_on_re_us/obit_nelson

      Former Senator Who Founded Earth Day Dies

      By RYAN NAKASHIMA, Associated Press Writer 1 minute
      ago

      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.
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