Book Club: Mardy Murie Did!

Grandmother of Conservation

What does it mean to live life so deeply, so completely and so extraordinarily that your spirit, work and gifts will not be forgotten? Mardy Murie did. Do you know about this exceptional woman who is now remembered as the “Grandmother of Conservation?”

Margaret ‘Mardy’ Murie was a naturalist, author, adventurer, environmentalist and Medal of Freedom winner. She was born August 18, 1902 in Seattle, Washington and grew up in Fairbanks, Alaska. A “pioneer” soul, she was the first woman graduate of the University of Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines (UAF) in 1924, the same year she met and married her husband, Olaus. They honeymooned on a rugged dogsled trip while Olaus conducted research, recording flora and fauna of the Arctic for the U.S. Biological Survey on Alaska’s Koyukuk River. This area was later incorporated as the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Mardy is best known for her devotion to the creation and preservation of these pristine lands.

Mardy and Olaus moved to Moose, Wyoming in 1927, where they built a log cabin and raised three children. Their homestead on the Snake River by Jackson Hole and bordering Grand Teton National Park is the current site of the Murie Center Ranch and Teton Science School (TSS). The ranch has been designated a National Historic District for its conservation history. It is well-worth your visit. Mardy was instrumental to the growth of the National Park in 1950. She was a founding member of TSS, acting on her belief that educating children is key to an environmentally healthy future. Indeed, the Muries together inspired multiple generations of young biologists and conservationists, setting the course of the conservation movement over 80 years ago. Olaus died in 1963, leaving Mardy with an empty heart, except for her passionate love for wildlife and wild places.

Mardy was determined and unstoppable, influencing everyone who crossed her path. She had many “famous” friends and admirers, including U.S. presidents, Senators, actors, entertainers, scientists, naturalists and common folk. Those lucky enough to know Mardy were inspired by being in her gentle presence, just to listen and to learn. Presidents Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton respected her vision and wisdom. President Clinton bestowed the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon Mardy in 1998 for her work. Robert Redford, John Denver, Lee Whittlesey of the National Park Service Yellowstone and Senator Mark Udall enjoyed visits to the Murie Ranch.

Late in her life, Mardy became iconic in conservation circles. As a writer, speaker and lobbyist, she pushed for protection of Alaskan lands that ultimately resulted in the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act signed by President Carter in 1980. She was constantly featured in environmental programs produced for the National Park Service and other organizations, speaking eloquently about preservation of natural places. Life would not be worth living without the “elemental kinds of joys” offered by nature, she often reminded us.

My work as a literary agent for John Denver led me to learn about his close friend, Mardy, and her incredible legacy. She died in 2003 at the age of 101 in the shadow of her beautiful and high Teton mountains before I ever had a chance to meet her in person, but
she had already inspired a memorable children’s picture book.

Mardy Murie Did! is written by Colorado author Jequita Potts McDaniel with illustrations by award-winning Eagle River, Alaska artist, Jon Van Zyle. They both knew Mardy. This timeless (and more-timely-than-ever!) picture book was first published in 2010 by Taylor Trade/Rowman & Littlefield/NBN. It remains a classic, with endorsements from Clinton, Udall and Whittlesey. The lyrical text and stunning color illustrations celebrate Mardy’s fascinating life and encourage everyone …

“To be nice to the land and the trees and the air . . .

We can do this you and me, because Mardy Murie did!”

Mardy Murie’s life made a difference. May we each live ours as deeply.

Mardy Murie Did! is available from Alp Arts Press:; also available through the Murie Center ( or wherever you buy books.

Mardy Murie Did Illustration

Illustration by Jon Van Zyle.