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Former NPS Director George Hartzog Passes


George B. Hartzog, Jr. was a passionate angler and one of the most respected Directors of the National Park Service.

George Hartzog, long revered by many in the National Park Service for the way he managed the agency and defended the National Park System from 1964-1972, has died. The seventh director of the agency and the first to be fired, passed away Friday.

Director Hartzog, who early on had worked for the agency in a range of roles, including that of superintendent of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Historic Site, quit the Park Service in 1962 to head Downtown St. Louis. He was brought back to the agency in 1964 when President Lyndon Johnson named him director.

Interior Secretary Stewart Udall hand-picked Mr. Hartzog for the job, as he was looking for someone who, biographers noted, "would push an expansionist and activist park policy."

Under Hartzog ten new parks were created in 1964 alone. Other notable years included 1965, with fourteen new parks; 1966 and 1968 with ten each; and 1972 with thirteen. In his nine years as director, 2.694 million acres in 78 new park areas were added to the system. Among them were five national parks including Voyageurs, Guadalupe Mountains, North Cascades and Redwoods. The other units consisted of seashores, lakeshore, recreational areas and numerous small historical parks. Hartzog presided over the most accelerated growth in NPS history. The annual visitation to the NPS system more than doubled during those nine years to 213 million people, while the total number of permanent and temporary personnel remained the same level.

Many of these parks were brought in under a new NPS agenda: “Parkscape U.S.A.” In the mid-1960s seeking to maintain the momentum created by Mission 66, he devised this successor program, which had as its principal focus the continued expansion of the system, rather than construction of roads and facilities, as with Mission 66. In Hartzog’s words, Parkscape U.S.A. would “complete for our generation a National Park System by 1972,” the centennial year of Yellowstone. The tremendous surge in outdoor recreation during this era placed added pressure on national park areas and increased the urgency to create new parks.

Among the new parks, the national recreation areas in particular added to the NPS’s involvement in recreational tourism which had been boosted by the roads and facilities emphasis of Mission 66. During Hartzog’s tenure and the Parkscape era, eight reservoirs were added to the system as national recreation areas, among them Bighorn Canyon, Lake Chelan, and Curecanti. Each of these new units marked a continuation of the national recreation area concept initiated in the 1930s with Lake Mead, and each reflected the strength of the recreational tourism surge within the Park Service during the Wirth/Hartzog era.

In 1969, when then-President Richard Nixon cut the Park Service's budget, Director Hartzog closed all national parks for two days a week.

“It was unheard of; even my own staff thought I was crazy,” he later said.

Crazy, perhaps, but the strategy paid off as a large backlash by the public convinced Congress to restore the Park Service funding.

However, Mr. Hartzog pushed things too far in 1972 when he learned a private citizen was using a boat dock at then-Biscayne National Monument for his personal use. The director moved quickly to revoke the permit, which happened to be held by the brother-in-law of Charles “Bebe” Rebozo, a long-time friend of President Nixon. The White House responded by firing Director Hartzog in December 1972.

Though Mr. Hartzog was shown the door, Interior Secretary Udall never lost his respect for the man. This is what he said of his friend in 1988:

One of the most inspiring leaders I worked with during my years in the federal government…In a decade when a president of the United States seeks out opportunities to denigrate the institution we call the federal government and belittle the work of its dedicated civil servants, George Hartzog reminds us of the glories of public service and the legacies our best bureaucrats leave to future generations…Everyone who saw him in action remembers the sense of mission, and the zest and drive, he transmitted to his co-workers…He was a consummate negotiator; he enjoyed entering political thickets, and he had the self-confidence and savvy to be his own lobbyist and to win most of his arguments with members of Congress, governors and presidents…He exuded reasonableness and goodwill. His signature was the greeting he invariably extended to ordinary citizens and senators alike: ‘Hello my friend, what can I do for you?’ As an administrator, he set an exemplary standard for commitment, for candor - - and for fair play.

Director Hartzog is listed in Who's Who in America, Who's Who in the World, and profiled in Exemplary Public Administrators, Character and Leadership in Government. For an excellent profile of Director Hartzog, follow this link.


Thanks for this write-up Kurt. In addition to the PDF document of G. Hartzog's oral history interview you link to above, we have his oral history in HTML/web page format, as well.

rob mutch
Executive Director,
Crater Lake Institute

RE: Bill Brown and George Hartzog:

Kurt, thank you for your thoughts about Director Hartzog. I thought you would want to see the email exchange with Bill Brown, now of Gustavus AK, which I will paste, below.

-- FYI: Several of us first heard about the death of George Hartzog from Bill Brown, a former acolyte of George's. Bill, author most recently of "Gaunt Beauty, Tenacious Life; a History of the Central Brooks Range," but most famously of "Islands Of Hope," was close enough to Hartzog that both supported each other and could confront each other. Although, I suppose Mr. Hartzog could confront anybody; fewer confronted him. You can see from the first message, Bill got the word from Bob Utley, historian of the Southwest, and former associate to the Director in the National Park Service:

----- Original Message -----
From: bill
Date: June 27, 2008 5:26:52 PM AKDT
Subject: George B. Hartzog has just died

Bob Utley just phoned me with this expected yet devastating news: George died within the hour of this message in the hospital.

Only 3 days ago I called George and talked with Helen and Him, and he was energetically working on a draft position paper that would define the mission of the George B. Hartzog Institute at Clemson University. This Institute would center its efforts on the adaptations of the human species to the inexorable demands of Energy, Global Warming, and the Restoration of a Livable Environment for humanity and our fellow citizens on this unique, living Blue Earth. In turn, he centered the means of accomplishing this great aim on the National Parks and equivalent preserves in this country, and, by our example, around the world. These protected reservoirs of biodiversity and remaining functioning ecosystems are the seedbeds and the nurseries that will allow us, if we can understand and accept George's science-based wisdom, to repair and restore our lonely Earth, if we can learn to abide by its limits. E.O. Wilson calls these saved places Nature's Last Stands.

This was the gist of our last conversation, one of many founded on the transformative role of National Parks and similar preserves in perpetuating our experiment in intelligent life on this friendly, sheltering EarthU in this vast universe.

With love and affection to George and Helen

Bill Brown

On Jun 28, 2008, at 9:20 AM, JIM PEPPER wrote:

Thank you, Bill, for your message and your feelings and thoughts.

Just trying to think about the scope of George's work -- set aside for now the greater ambitions -- demonstrates the capacity of national parks and, for that matter, of government.

I began by thinking of your "Islands of Hope" and the environmental education programs George started, that also were the way I met you. And then, the urban park programs, summer in the parks, "Web of Life" and "Man in the Biosphere," cultural parks, national seashores, aggressive legislative policy and wilderness office, pursuing Alaskan Parks and monuments, annual goals statement via Stewart Udall, national recreation areas. 2nd World Conference. In essence, parks as vital to the American People. George did tend to devour people whole, but also ate Assistant Secretaries for breakfast, as someone once said, and the building shook when he walked through the corridors.

He inspired people. Those people inspired people in turn. The credits keep rolling through my brain. This roll of human energy demonstrates our capacity when we release our will and confidence, and believe in the things that are the best of this country.


----- Original Message -----
Sent: Saturday, June 28, 2008 3:06 PM
Subject: Re: George B. Hartzog has just died

Of course, all you listed, plus more. What a privilege to work with [him] . .. I see Dwight Pitcaithley tackling the relevance question again in a recent speech. . . .. GBH was all about relevance. We don't have to ask what's relevance? It's getting out front and putting the NPS/S in the lead on all the issues you said and that George was working on when he keeled over. The social utility of the NPSystem is beyond quantification. And GBH broke into that realm at just the right time, and the idea still lives at an even more critical time. Best to you. . ., Bill


HAS ANYONE EVER SEEN ANY MESSAGE FROM DIRECTOR BOMAR, no matter what the topic, that she does not manage to turn into something about HERSELF?

That’s right Mary, what we want to hear about right now is how George Hartzog “welcomed” Mary Bomar – how did you know? Anyone who really knew and worked with Director Harzog can imagine what short work he would have made of a self-absorbed show-piece such as Bomar, whether you can imagine George being described as “a gentleman from the old school” or not. One thing about George, he always made sure all of us put the name of the National Park Service and National Park System FIRST, and NEVER gave prominence to our own names.\\

* * *

Message from the Director of the National Park Service
Mary A. Bomar
Saturday 28th June, 2008

It was with heartfelt sadness that I learned of George B. Hartzog's passing upon my return to Washington from Golden Gate, California on Friday night.

"Friends, family, and parks everywhere have lost a good friend. George Hartzog led the National Park Service for nine years. The people and the parks remained important to him more than 30 years after he left the job.

He offered his help to not only me but every Director who came after him and always shared both wisdom and candor. He will be missed. He was a great manager and leader. More importantly, he was a lovely man--a good man--a gentleman from the old school."

Keep in mind, I'm prejudiced. I honestly believe George Hartzog was one of the smartest persons I ever knew -- and I've known a lot of bright people.

I recall him welcoming me to his home after I became Director. And while his ailments had slowed him a bit, he retained all the intellect and keen interest in the parks that were, in addition to his wife Helen, the love of his life. This past year he participated in one of our National Leadership Council meetings, and continued to advocate for the parks, especially urban parks, throughout his remaining days..

Mr. Hartzog was 87 years old. He is survived by Helen, his wife of 60 years, and three children, Nancy, George Jr. and Edward. Funeral plans are incomplete, but expected to take place the middle or end of next week.
* * *


Director Bomar's piece "about" Director "Hartzog" actually does reference Director Hartzog or his wife by name six times.

In the same message, she refers to "I" or "Me" or "I'm" NINE times. That is not as bad as the comment, as it amounts to only NINE for Bomar and as many as SIX for Director Hartzog.

This is just to be fair.


Here below is an Obit for Director Harzog, published today.

Although it smacks of hagiography, the broad scope is accurate.

At the time of his firing by the Nixon administration, two stories circulated at the time that are different than the one presented below, that personally blames President Nixon. One alternate story was that Haldemann demanded resignations of ALL senior government employees and agency heads, and Hartzog refused to resign, and so was fired. The additional spice in that story is that Harzog was a known Democrat holdover first spotted and moved into the line of succession by Jack Kennedy, and, under President Johnson, Harzog typified the kind of big-government of Johnson that the Nixon administration slowly squeezed out. According to this account, Hartzog was the last Democratic holdover in the Nixon Administration, and it was just a matter of time. The other story was that Harzog had a conflict with another major personality and ego, the Assistant Secretary of the Interior Nat Reed. Hartzog was not used to dealing with anyone other than the Secretary, the President and Congress, and Reed was not about to permit Harzog to go around him. Reed told everybody, in this version, that the superintendent of Grand Tetons NP was "the best in the NPS" and hired Gary Everhardt to replace Hartzog. Everhardt was a fine superintendent, but not up to the battles Hartzog regularly fought with relish. Everhardt surrounded himself with tired former aides to Hartzog (people who were expected to be sent to pasture, but Hartzog's departure saved them) and aides of Reed's. Whether one of these three stories or another, NPS was never to have a powerful and capable Director like Hartzog again.

Here is the Obit:

CharlestonPost&Courier / 7/1/2008
George B. Hartzog Jr.
COLLETON COUNTY - Former director of the National Park Service, George B. Hartzog, 88, died Friday in the Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington. Despite several years of failing health, he had lost none of the mental powers for which he was noted.
Under the dynamic leadership of Mr. Hartzog the National Park System doubled in size during his nine-year tenure, which ended in 1972. Hartzog served as director of the National Park Service from 1964 to 1973 - years of national turmoil, but also years that provided a political environment of extraordinary opportunity.
President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society, Interior Secretary Stewart Udall's aggressive environmentalism, and a Democratic Congress receptive to the cause of the national parks conferred advantages that no director before or since has enjoyed. Hartzog possessed the bureaucratic and political talents to exploit this combination. His most conspicuous achievement was expansion of the National Park System.
During his nine-year directorate, the system grew by 72 units - not just national parks, but historical and archeological monuments and sites, recreation areas, seashores, riverways, and memorials - more than at any comparable period in its history. Hartzog was especially proud of advancing workplace diversity. Under his guidance the Service gained its first black park superintendent, its first career woman superintendent, its first Indian superintendent, and the first black chief of a major national police force. The Service took on a different public appearance as more women and minorities rose in the ranks to important positions.
He sought to bring park resources and values to urban populations. New York City's Gateway and San Francisco's Golden Gate national recreation areas took form during his tenure, and he spawned a host of environmental education programs that touched and inspired urban dwellers, especially inner city youth. Hartzog played a critical role in the passage and implementation of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, whose financial, registration, and protective features have saved structures, sites, and entire districts in every state and Indian tribal lands.
Of enormous consequence, working with Senator Alan Bible, Hartzog played a critical role in laying the legislative groundwork for the selection of "National Interest Lands" in Alaska. Ultimately, when finally enacted by the Congress, the park selections doubled the size of the National Park System.
Hartzog introduced programs and professional attitudes that made national parks more welcoming to people of color and different economic classes. Recognizing the encroachment of urban crime into the parks, he began the training of rangers in law enforcement. Hartzog's directorate ended abruptly in December 1972. President Richard Nixon, re-elected a month earlier to a second term, fired Hartzog. His political dexterity and intimate relationship with congressional barons discomfited the White House. Also, unknown to Hartzog, one of his superintendents had offended Nixon pal Bebe Rebonzo. The vigorous appeals of Secretary of the Interior Rogers C.B. Morton failed to persuade the president to change his mind. Hartzog told his story in a 1988 boo, "Battling for the National Parks."
Born on March 17, 1920, and reared in poverty in rural South Carolina, George Hartzog absorbed the compassionate values of family, community, and church - he even became a lay preacher - and carried them with him to his death. Forced to support a family impoverished by a disabled father, he could pursue education only sporadically. With a high school diploma and a few months of college, he applied himself to reading law in the office of a local attorney. That enabled him to gain admission to the South Carolina bar in 1942. After service in World War II as an Army military police officer, Hartzog entered the ranks of government as an attorney and soon found a position in the National Park Service. He did both legal and concessions work in the Washington office and gained management experience as assistant superintendent of both the Rocky Mountains and Great Smokey Mountains national parks.
Beginning in 1959, Hartzog made his name as superintendent of Jefferson National Expansion Memorial on the St. Louis waterfront, a park that commemorates America's westward expansion. Employing imaginative legal and contract stratagems, he surmounted daunting obstacles to revive the stalled construction of the massive arch, the creation of famed architect Eero Saarinen, that symbolized the gateway to the West. Hartzog's work in St. Louis and on the proposed Ozark National Scenic Riverways caught the attention of Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall.
The Kennedy-Johnson administration signaled major changes in the federal government, none more so than the National Park Service. The two presidents sought bold changes. Udall thought Hartzog would bring to the job a "new dynamism." He became director early in 1964. Parts of the entrenched bureaucracy disliked and feared the new director and his style. He prevailed with strong, decisive leadership - and a vision to take the national parks places they had never gone.
He was a workaholic and demanded the same from all who answered to him. He could be an abusive tyrant one moment, and a compassionate, caring friend the next. Whatever his mood of the moment, he cared deeply and personally about everyone in the National Park Service, and he let them know it. Hartzog remained controversial throughout his directorate, both in and out of the National Park Service. But as his achievements multiplied and he emerged as incontestably brilliant, quick-minded, and impressively articulate, he amassed a loyal following that labored tirelessly to further his objectives.
Former Interior Secretary Stewart L. Udall said, "[Hartzog]... was a consummate negotiator, he enjoyed entering political thickets; he had the self-confidence and savvy to be his own lobbyist and to win most of his arguments with members of Congress, governors and presidents."
Famed writer Wallace Stegner captured the essence of the man he came to know so well: Hartzog was the "toughest, savviest, and most effective bureau chief who ever operated in that political alligator hole... Among distinguished public administrators he was one of the most distinguished, one of the friendliest, and one of the most honest." For those who worked for Hartzog, even those discomfited by his frenetic pace of change, he is remembered as a great director. In fact, Robert Utley, who served as chief historian of the Service during the Hartzog era, speaks as a historian when he judges Hartzog the greatest director since the founding duo of Stephen Mather and Horace Albright in the years after passage of the National Park Service organic act of 1916.
Reflecting the apprehension with which field employees greeted the "new dynamism," longtime Park Service deputy director Denis Galvin looked back on his early years: "I was a new park employee when George Hartzog became director. When the peripatetic director visited the park where I worked I found some vegetation to hide behind. I still wound up in New York City as part of his urban parks program. As usual, he was right."
After his directorate, Hartzog practiced law in the Washington area. He donated his papers and established the George B. Jr. and Helen C. Hartzog Institute for Parks at Clemson University, S.C., which is a major research center for study of the national parks and National Park Service. Hartzog is survived by his wife of 61 years, Helen, of the McLean, Va., residence; also daughter Nancy Hartzog of New Bedford, Mass.; sons George III of Chicago, Ill.; and Edward of New York City; and two granddaughters, two grandsons, and one great-granddaughter. Funeral services will be held Wednesday morning at 11:00 in the Green Pond United Methodist Church.
Published in the Charleston Post & Courier on 7/1/2008.

What an inspiring and charismatic leader! Director Hartzog inspired me to move from Grand Canyon to Washington, DC in 1969 to be part of a new urban initiative. This fateful move led to a most satisfying career, culminating in a lengthy assignment as Director of White House Liaison for the National Park Service. I continued to cherish the opportunity to work with George Hartzog as we served together on the Board of the White House Historical Assn. Just 3 weeks ago we worked together to resolve a policy issue with the White House Endowment Trust. He was engaged and active, brilliantly so, up to the very end. I and many others will truly miss his leadership, his inspiration, and his great stories! Our hearts go out to Helen and to George's family at this time. So long, good friend, and thank you...

I had the great privilege of driving George Hartzog to his dialysis and doctors appointments during the last seven months of his life. This proved to be one of the great experiences of my life. Though many years my senior, Mr. Hartzog insisted on me calling him George. This took some time getting used to, but he made it clear in no uncertain terms that “Mr.” was unacceptable. I learned early on that when George Hartzog had made up his mind of something, he generally held to it.

I never knew George in his younger years, but I often mused to myself about what he must have been like. I saw pictures of him and his lovely wife Helen and their family from years ago and I read about his life at the helm of the National Park Service, but it was the stories he told, such wonderful stories, which brought me to the conclusion that he must have been a man’s man.

One such story involved his early days in the park service when he found a bear caught in a trap and rushed back to the park office to get help. He returned with an experienced ranger who proceeded to tell him to go down hill and keep the bear occupied while the ranger crept up from above to cut the bear out of the trap. The bear of course by now was quite out of his mind with rage over his situation. I can just imagine young George facing down that bear, knowing he was about to be let loose with a down-hill slope leading straight to him! Fortunately for all, the bear simply ambled off into the brush after being set so painfully free.

There were many other bear stories, fish stories, and mountain climbing stories. But some of the most impressive were his exploits on Capitol Hill and the White House. I was in awe of the masterful way in which he was able to get his way in both of those arenas, and the way in which he would not budge when a principle was at stake. At one point he was ordered by a white house official to do something that he simply had no authorization from Congress to do. He refused. He said, “Sir, I will be happy to do anything that you ask me to do as long as the list of penalties of doing so does not end with the words ‘shall be incarcerated.’”

I must say though, that what impressed me the most was the man that I got to know in those last seven months in the car and at his appointments. There was never a person that he passed without an acknowledgement and a respectful greeting. It did not matter who was he was addressing, he was always attentive and careful to let them know he valued their presence. And this came at a time in his life in which he was almost constantly in extreme pain. Don’t get me wrong, George could not be dissuaded when he had made up his mind and would not tolerate bureaucratic rules stopping him. I recall once being called to the hospital to take George home. I was happy to help, but when I arrived George was ready to go whether or not the hospital was ready for him to leave. I wheeled him up to the nurse’s station, but they had other ideas. Needless to say, after respectfully declining to comply with their requests, we were off.

When George was 17 years old he was the youngest licensed Methodist minister in South Carolina. One day in the car I asked him if he ever regretted not going into the ministry full time. He said that perhaps there were times when he wondered about that, but that he had concluded that his work in the park service was fulfilling God’s calling in his life to help take care of His creation. He had a great conviction that God ruled in the affairs of men, and he conveyed many stories of how that had impacted his life right up to being the Director of the National Park Service. We had many wonderful conversations discussing matters of faith. And though of decidedly different political persuasions, of which he was in no way shy to state his opinion, we found a great common ground in the life and person of Jesus Christ. More than once he told me that though he loved his family and friends, he sometimes wondered if it might be better to go on to be with the Lord in light of the intensity of the pain he had to live with day to day. His was a sure conviction of the reality that heaven was at hand, and though sad to say good-bye, he was ready.

And so he left us on Friday June 27th 2008. I had taken him to dialysis that day. He was not himself when I came to pick him up. But often the dialysis tended to disorient him. This day however was different. Though his vital signs were OK, he was not responding when we spoke. It took three of us to get him out to and into the car. When we got back to the house his daughter Nancy was providentially there and went with him to the hospital, from which he did not return.

Several days later, I returned to the dialysis center to thank those who had so faithfully and lovingly cared for him over the months. I talked to the nurse, Irene, and one of the attendants that had been particularly fond of George. As I told them of what happened after we left dialysis that day and thanked them for their kindness to him, they were visibly moved. Irene proclaimed that he was now was in heaven. The other attendant through tears told me he was like a father to her.

What a wonderful tribute. After a life of working with the powerful and proving to be no small participant in that world, he was one who took the time and the care to reach out to all those whom God in His providence had placed in his path regardless of their station or position in life. This is a life well lived and well loved.

There is a single, oddly downbeat, mention of former NPS Director Gary Everhardt in this page, but for those interested in a broader view of Everhardt's achievements, you might check out my NPTraveler story from last fall— /2010/10/gary-everhardt-%E2%80%9Cright-man-right-time%E2%80%9D-blue-ridge-parkway7132

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