(August 18, 1902 – October 19, 2003)
Margaret Elizabeth Thomas was born in Seattle in 1902, but spent her childhood in Fairbanks, Alaska. In 1924, she was the first woman to graduate from the University of Alaska. Her marriage to Olaus in 1924 began a lifetime of travel, scientific research, and involvement in conservation activities. Mardy and Olaus had three children, Martin, Joanne, and Donald.
Mardy is the author of several books, including Island Between, Two in the Far North and Wapiti Wilderness.
She played a key role in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act in 1977, the greatest land preservation act in U.S. history, where she testified in front of Congress by declaring she was an emotional woman, attached to the beauty and innocence of Alaska, and there was nothing wrong with that.
Mardy served on the Council of the Wilderness Society, received an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Alaska, the Audubon Medal, and was an Honorary Park Ranger. She was on the founding board of the Teton Science School in Jackson, WY.
2013 marked the 15th anniversary of President Bill Clinton awarding Mardy the prestigious Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor, in 1998 for her lifetime service to conservation. During the ceremony, President Clinton said:
“For Mardy Murie wilderness was personal. She and her husband Olaus spent
their honeymoon – listen to this – on a 550-mile dog sled expedition through
the Brooks Mountain Range of Alaska. Fitting for a couple whose love for each
other was matched only by their love of nature. After her husband died, Mrs.
Murie built on their five decades of work together.
She became the prime mover in the creation of one of America’s great national
treasures, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and blazed trails for generations
of conservationists. Today amongst the fur and spruce of the high Tetons, she
shares her wisdom with everyone who passes by, from ordinary hikers to the
President and first lady, inspiring us all to conserve our pristine lands, and
preserve her glorious legacy.”
In 2000, filmmakers Bonnie Kreps and Charles Craighead released Arctic Dance: The Mardy Murie Story. At Mardy’s 100th birthday celebration, she was awarded the National Wildlife Federation’s highest honor, the 2002 J.N. Ding Darling Conservationist of the Year Award.
Mardy passed away in 2003 at the age of 101 on the Murie Ranch. Mardy will forever be remembered as the “Grandmother of Conservation” for all the hard work and love she put into protecting the wildness of our planet.
In the video above, good friend John Denver visits Mardy Murie at her home in Moose, Wyoming and has a wonderful conversation about conservation and what she has done to advance wild land protection, especially in Alaska.