William Ruckelshaus

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Bill Ruckelshaus
Ruckelshaus' face
1st and 5th Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
In office
May 15, 1983 – February 7, 1985
PresidentRonald Reagan
DeputyAlvin L. Alm
Preceded byAnne Gorsuch Burford
Succeeded byLee M. Thomas
In office
December 4, 1970 – April 30, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
DeputyRobert W. Fri
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byRussell E. Train
13th United States Deputy Attorney General
In office
July 9, 1973 – October 20, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byJoseph Tyree Sneed III
Succeeded byLaurence Silberman
Acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
In office
April 30, 1973 – July 9, 1973
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byL. Patrick Gray (acting)
Succeeded byClarence M. Kelley
United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
In office
January 20, 1969 – December 4, 1970
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byEdwin L. Weisl Jr.
Succeeded byL. Patrick Gray
Member of the Indiana House of Representatives
from the 26th district
In office
November 9, 1966 – November 6, 1968
Preceded byMulti-member district[1]
Succeeded byMulti-member district
Personal details
William Doyle Ruckelshaus

(1932-07-24)July 24, 1932
Indianapolis, Indiana, U.S.
DiedNovember 27, 2019(2019-11-27) (aged 87)
Medina, Washington, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Ellen Urban
(m. 1960; died 1961)

(m. 1962)
RelativesJohn C. Ruckelshaus (brother)
John Ruckelshaus (nephew)
EducationPrinceton University (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom (2015)
Seattle Aquarium Medal (2004)
Military service
Allegiance United States
Branch/service United States Army
Years of service1953–1955

William Doyle Ruckelshaus (July 24, 1932 – November 27, 2019) was an American attorney and government official.

Ruckelshaus served in the Indiana House of Representatives from 1966 to 1968, and was the United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division from 1969 to 1970. He was also the first Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1970 to 1973, after being nominated by Richard Nixon. He returned to the position from 1983 to 1985, as the fifth Administrator of the EPA, during the Reagan administration. In 1973, he was also the acting FBI Director.

While serving as US Deputy Attorney General in October 1973, in what became known as the "Saturday Night Massacre,"[2] Ruckelshaus and US Attorney General Elliot Richardson resigned from their positions rather than obey the order of US President Richard Nixon to fire the independent special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was tasked with investigating Nixon's role in the Watergate scandal.

Early life, military service, and education[edit]

Ruckelshaus was born in Indianapolis, Indiana, on July 24, 1932, the son of Marion Doyle (née Covington) and John K. Ruckelshaus.[3] He was from a distinguished family with a long history of practicing law in Indianapolis and serving in Republican Party politics.[4][5]

He attended parochial schools until the age of 16, then finished high school in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, at the Portsmouth Abbey School.[4]

He began college at Princeton University before being drafted[6] and serving for two years in the United States Army, becoming a drill sergeant at Fort Lewis in Tacoma, Washington.[7] He left the Army in 1955, returning to and graduating from Princeton with an A.B. (cum laude) in history in 1957 after completing a senior thesis titled "American Attitudes toward the Spanish Civil War."[8] In 1960 he earned an LL.B. from Harvard Law School and joined the family law firm in Indianapolis.[6]

In 1960, Ruckelshaus married Ellen Urban, who died the following year from complications incurred after giving birth to their twin daughters.[4] In 1962 he remarried, to Jill Strickland, with whom he had three children.[9]

His brother was John C. Ruckelshaus and his nephew was John Ruckelshaus; they also served in the Indiana General Assembly.[10]

Early legal and political career (1960–1970)[edit]

After passing the Indiana bar exam, Ruckelshaus joined the family law firm of Ruckelshaus, Bobbitt, and O'Connor.[11]

In 1960, at age 28, he was appointed as Deputy Attorney General of Indiana, and served through 1965.[5][11] For two years he was assigned to the Indiana Board of Health. As counsel to the Indiana Stream Pollution Control Board, Ruckelshaus obtained court orders prohibiting industries and municipalities from heavily polluting the state's water supply; he also helped draft the Indiana Air Pollution Control Act of 1961, the state's first attempt to reduce that problem.[4][11] After that assignment, he spent two years as Chief Counsel for the Attorney General's Office.[11]

In 1964, Ruckelshaus ran as a moderate Republican in the U.S. House election in Indiana's 11th district, losing in the primary to Don Tabbert, a candidate from the conservative wing of the party. He subsequently spent a year as minority attorney for the Indiana Senate.[4][11]

He won a seat in the Indiana House of Representatives in 1966, benefiting from an up year for Republicans overall.[11][12] He served in the House for one term, until 1968.[4][12] He became the first first-term legislator to serve as majority leader of the House.[4][11]

Ruckelshaus ran in the 1968 U.S. Senate election in Indiana, winning the Republican nomination, but losing the general election, 51%–48%,[13][14] to incumbent Birch Bayh.[4][15]

In 1969, President Richard Nixon appointed him as U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Nixon's new administration. Ruckelshaus held the post until his appointment as the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970.[11]

EPA Administrator (1970–1973)[edit]

Ruckelshaus sworn in as first EPA Administrator. The people in the photo from left to right are: President Richard M. Nixon, William Ruckelshaus, Jill Ruckelshaus, and Chief Justice Warren Burger.
Administrator Ruckelshaus on a tour of the Four Corners Air Quality Region by EPA airplane

Ruckelshaus became the US Environmental Protection Agency's first administrator when the agency was formed on December 2, 1970 by Nixon. Although many people were mentioned as possibilities for the new position, the choice of Ruckelshaus had been based upon the strong recommendation of US Attorney General John N. Mitchell. Ruckelhaus had been suggested in a Newsweek opinion column by a friend without his knowledge and was later approached Mitchell about the position.[16]

The burning of the Cuyahoga River had created a national outcry. The Justice Department under Mitchell filed a civil lawsuit against the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company "for discharging substantial quantities of cyanide into the Cuyahoga" at Ruckelshaus's request and sought an injunction "to halt the discharge of these deleterious materials into the river...."[4][17]

Also during his first tenure at the EPA, Ruckelshaus advocated for and enacted a ban on the insecticide DDT.[4]

Ruckelshaus laid the foundation for the EPA by hiring its leaders by defining its mission, deciding on priorities, and selecting an organizational structure. He also oversaw the implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970.[18][19]

Saturday Night Massacre (1973)[edit]

In April 1973, during the growing Watergate scandal, there was a major reshuffling of Nixon administration posts because of the resignations of White House Chief of Staff H. R. Haldeman and Domestic Affairs Advisor John Ehrlichman. Ruckelshaus's record of success at EPA and Justice and his reputation for integrity led to his being appointed acting Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation to replace L. Patrick Gray III, "who had allowed Nixon aides to examine Watergate files and had even destroyed evidence in the case."[4] Later that year, Ruckelshaus was promoted to Deputy Attorney General.[4][5]

On October 20, 1973,[4] in the event known as the "Saturday Night Massacre," Attorney General Elliot Richardson and then Ruckelshaus resigned their positions, rather than obey orders from Nixon to fire the Watergate special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, who was investigating official misconduct by Nixon and his aides and sought "tape recordings that... would incriminate" Nixon.[20] After the resignations, the third in command at the Justice Department, US Solicitor General Robert Bork immediately effected the firing and the abolition of the special prosecutor's office, completing the "Massacre." However, 300,000 telegrams, release of the tapes, the reinstatement of a special prosecutor, and (ultimately) Nixon's resignation in August 1974 would occur over the next 10 months.[4]

Private law (1973–1983)[edit]

After leaving the Justice Department, Ruckelshaus returned to the private sector as an attorney at the Washington law firm of Ruckelshaus, Beveridge, Fairbanks, and Diamond from 1973 to 1975.[21]

In 1975, Ruckelshaus moved to Seattle, Washington, where he accepted a position as senior vice-president for law and corporate affairs of the Tacoma-based Weyerhaeuser timber company.[4][22] Ruckelshaus remained in that position until 1983.[22]

Ruckelshaus was one of Gerald Ford's preferred candidates to be his vice presidential running mate in the 1976 election. Ford selected Bob Dole; the two lost the election to Democrat Jimmy Carter and his running mate, Walter Mondale.[23]

Return to the EPA (1983–1985)[edit]

In 1983, with the EPA in crisis due to mass resignations over the mishandling of the Superfund program,[24] President Ronald Reagan appointed Ruckelshaus to serve as EPA Administrator again. This time it was White House Chief of Staff James Baker who was Ruckelshaus's champion in asking him to return to the agency.[5] The White House acceded to Ruckhelshaus's request to allow him maximum autonomy in the choice of new appointees.[5]

Ruckelshaus's predecessor, Anne Gorsuch Burford (mother of future U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch),[25] had depleted the EPA by asking Congress to cut the agency's budget, eliminating jobs and halting enforcement activities.[4][6] On his second day after taking over for Burford, Ruckelsaus fired four people on the agency's management team.[6]

Ruckelshaus attempted to win back public confidence in the EPA, a challenging task in the face of a skeptical press and a wary Congress, both of whom scrutinized all aspects of the agency's activities and some of whom interpreted a number of its actions in the worst possible light.[4] Nonetheless, Ruckelshaus filled the top-level staffing slots with persons of competence, turned the attention of the staff back to the agency's fundamental mission, and raised the esteem of the agency in the public mind.[4][6]

On November 28, 1984, Ruckelshaus announced that he would be retiring as EPA head, effective January 5, 1985, around the start of President Reagan's second term. He remained Administrator until February 7, 1985, when his successor, Lee M. Thomas, was confirmed.[25]

Of his two tenures at EPA, Ruckelshaus later reflected:[26]

I've had an awful lot of jobs in my lifetime, and in moving from one to another, have had the opportunity to think about what makes them worthwhile. I've concluded there are four important criteria: interest, excitement, challenge, and fulfillment. I've never worked anywhere where I could find all four to quite the same extent as at EPA. I can find interest, challenge, and excitement as [board chair of a company]. I do have an interesting job. But it is tough to find the same degree of fulfillment I found in the government. At EPA, you work for a cause that is beyond self-interest and larger than the goals people normally pursue. You're not there for the money, you're there for something beyond yourself.[26]

Subsequent career[edit]

1980s and 1990s[edit]

Ruckelshaus was at Perkins Coie, a Seattle-based law firm, from 1985 to 1988.[22] From 1983 to 1986, he served on the World Commission on Environment and Development set up by the United Nations.[19]

From 1988 to 1999, he served as chief executive officer of Browning-Ferris Industries of Houston, Texas, a major and expanding waste-removal firm.[5] During his tenure, Browning Ferris shifted from a focus on hazardous wastes to recycling. As the company expanded its operations into New York City, Ruckelshaus "helped investigators infiltrate a Mafia-dominated carting conspiracy, leading prosecutors to obtain indictments."[4]

After leaving Browning-Ferris, Ruckelshaus became a partner in the private investment firm, Madrona Venture Group.[5]

President Bill Clinton appointed Ruckelshaus as a member of the President's Council for Sustainable Development from 1993 to 1997,[5] and as U.S. special envoy in the implementation of the Pacific Salmon Treaty from 1997 to 1998.[5][22] He was also appointed Chairman of the Salmon Recovery Funding Board for the state of Washington.[27]

2000s and 2010s[edit]

Ruckelshaus speaks in 2010 at an EPA event celebrating the agency's 40th anniversary.

Ruckelshaus was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve on the United States Commission on Ocean Policy,[4] which submitted its Final Report to the President and Congress, An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century, in 2004.[28]

In June 2010, Ruckelshaus became co-chair of the Joint Ocean Commission Initiative.[29]

Ruckelshaus served as a director on boards of several corporations, including Isilon Systems, Monsanto, Cummins, Pharmacia, Solutia, Coinstar, Nordstrom, Pfizer, and Weyerhaeuser.[30]

He was Chair of the Advisory Board of The William D. Ruckelshaus Center[31] at the University of Washington and Washington State University, Chair Emeritus of the University of Wyoming's Ruckelshaus Institute for Environment and Natural Resources, Chairman Emeritus of the World Resources Institute,[32] and Chair of the Meridian Institute. He was a director of the Initiative for Global Development.[33]

In 2008, Ruckelshaus endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 election for President of the United States.[34] In August 2016, Ruckelshaus and another former Republican-appointed EPA administrator, William K. Reilly, jointly endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in the 2016 election.[35]

In 2008, Ruckelshaus was appointed to the Washington State Puget Sound Partnership, an agency devoted to cleaning up Puget Sound.[36] In early 2012, Ruckelshaus was appointed co-chair of the Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on ocean acidification.[37]

In August 2018, Ruckelshaus drew parallels to the actions of President Donald Trump's administration relating to special prosecutor Robert Mueller and Ruckelshaus's own experiences during the Massacre and with President Nixon's "disrespect for the rule of law" in an opinion-editorial in The Washington Post.[20]

He died 5 months before 2 other Acting FBI Directors, James B. Adams and John E. Otto, and 6.5 months before FBI Director, William S. Sessions.

Presidential Medal of Freedom[edit]

In November 2015, Ruckelshaus was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House.[38][39]


Ruckelshaus died at his home in Medina, Washington, on November 27, 2019, at age 87.[4][40]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Indiana Political History Database: State Representatives from Marion County". Capitol & Washington. March 3, 2015.
  2. ^ Andrews, Evan. "What Was the Saturday Night Massacre?". HISTORY. Retrieved March 4, 2021.
  3. ^ The International Who's Who, 1997-98. Vol. 61. Europa Publications. 1997. ISBN 9781857430226.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u McFadden, Robert D. (November 27, 2019). "William Ruckelshaus, who quit in 'Saturday Night Massacre,' dies at 87". The New York Times. Archived from the original on December 3, 2019. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Oster, Patrick (November 27, 2019). "William Ruckelshaus, Nixon nemesis who headed EPA, dies at 87". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on November 27, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  6. ^ a b c d e Smith, Timothy R. (November 27, 2019). "William D. Ruckelshaus, who refused to join in Nixon's 'Saturday Night Massacre,' dies at 87". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2019.
  7. ^ "Ex-EPA chief Ruckelshaus, who quit in Watergate’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre,’ dies at 87", AP via Los Angeles Times, November 27, 2019. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  8. ^ Ruckelhaus, William Doyle. Princeton University. Department of Politics (ed.). "American Attitudes toward the Spanish Civil War". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  9. ^ "Ruckelshaus, William Doyle (b. 1932)". HistoryLink.org. Retrieved December 30, 2018.
  10. ^ Indiana Legislator Database-John C. Ruckelshaus
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h "William D. Ruckelshaus: Oral History Interview", January 1993. Section, "Biography". Environmental Protection Agency. archive.epa.gov. Retrieved March 19, 2017. See also: "Biography". Archived from the original on September 9, 2009.
  12. ^ a b Indiana Legislator Database-William Ruckelshaus
  13. ^ Guthrie, Benjamin J.; Jennings, W. Pat (July 1, 1969). "Statistics of the Presidential and Congressional Election of November 5, 1968" (PDF). House.gov. Archived from the original (PDF) on January 19, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  14. ^ "U.S. Senate election results (Indiana, 1968)". Our Campaigns. February 5, 2005. Archived from the original on March 10, 2016. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  15. ^ "William Ruckelshaus '51 Receives Presidential Medal of Freedom". Portsmouth Abbey School. January 25, 2016. Retrieved January 3, 2018.
  16. ^ "Early Implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in California." EPA Alumni Association. Video, Transcript (see pp. 2,3). July 12, 2016.
  17. ^ "Press Conference Attorney General John Mitchell 12-18-1970" (PDF).
  18. ^ "Early Implementation of the Clean Air Act of 1970 in California." EPA Alumni Association. Video, Transcript. July 12, 2016.
  19. ^ a b Roseth, Bob (January 18, 2012). "New oral history of William Ruckelshaus, key figure in environmental policy, now online". University of Washington. Archived from the original on October 12, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  20. ^ a b Ruckelshaus, William D., "Only one other president has ever acted this desperate", Washington Post, August 6, 2018. Retrieved November 28, 2019.
  21. ^ "Biography of William D. Ruckelshaus". EPA.gov. 2016. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  22. ^ a b c d Biography of William D. Ruckelshaus: First Term, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2016).
  23. ^ Mieczkowski, Yanek (April 22, 2005). Gerald Ford and the Challenges of the 1970s. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 320–323. ISBN 0813172055.
  24. ^ Sullivan, Patricia (July 22, 2004). "Anne Gorsuch Burford, 62, Dies; Reagan EPA Director". The Washington Post. Retrieved July 31, 2008.
  25. ^ a b Adragna, Anthony; Colman, Zack (November 27, 2019). "William Ruckelshaus, first EPA chief, dies at 87". Politico. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  26. ^ a b "William D. Ruckelshaus: Oral History Interview", January 1993. Section, "Reflections on Being Administrator". Environmental Protection Agency. archive.epa.gov. Retrieved March 19, 2017. See also: "Reflections on Being Administrator". Archived from the original on October 2, 2006.
  27. ^ Governor Gregoire Appoints Leaders to Protect and Restore Puget Sound (press release), Governor Chris Gregoire, June 27, 2007.
  28. ^ An Ocean Blueprint for the 21st Century: Final Report of the United States Commission on Ocean Policy, United States Commission on Ocean Policy (2004).
  29. ^ "Joint Initiative leadership council members congratulate co-chair Bill Ruckelshaus on receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom". Joint Ocean Commission Initiative. November 24, 2015. Archived from the original on December 4, 2019. Retrieved December 4, 2019.
  30. ^ "William Ruckelshaus". The William D. Ruckelshaus Center, Washington State University. Archived from the original on February 18, 2013. Retrieved August 1, 2012.
  31. ^ "The William D. Ruckelshaus Center - Washington State University".
  32. ^ World Resources Institute Biosketch of William D. Ruckelshaus. Accessed March 27, 2012.
  33. ^ "Leadership Council | Initiative for Global Development". Archived from the original on January 6, 2012. Retrieved January 25, 2012.
  34. ^ Chris McGann, Republican Ruckelshaus backs Obama: Watergate hero announces his support, Seattle Post-Intelligencer (September 3, 2008).
  35. ^ Wagner, John (August 9, 2016). "Two former Republican EPA administrators throw support to Clinton". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 26, 2018.
  36. ^ "Puget Sound Partnership". Psp.wa.gov. September 1, 2008. Retrieved August 21, 2010.
  37. ^ "Washington Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification". ecy.wa.gov. Archived from the original on July 29, 2014. Retrieved August 22, 2014.
  38. ^ "President Obama Names Recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom". whitehouse.gov. November 16, 2015. Retrieved November 16, 2015 – via National Archives.
  39. ^ Phil Helsel – "Obama honoring Spielberg, Streisand and more with medal of freedom," NBC News, November 24, 2015. Retrieved November 25, 2015
  40. ^ Smith, Timothy R. (November 27, 2019). "William D. Ruckelshaus, who refused to join in Nixon's 'Saturday Night Massacre,' dies at 87". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 27, 2019.

External links[edit]

Party political offices
Preceded by Republican nominee for
U.S. Senator from Indiana (Class 3)

Succeeded by
Legal offices
Preceded by United States Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division
January 20, 1969 – December 4, 1970
Succeeded by
Preceded by United States Deputy Attorney General
July 9, 1973 – October 20, 1973
Succeeded by
Political offices
New office Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
December 4, 1970 – April 30, 1973
Succeeded by
Preceded by Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
May 15, 1983 – February 7, 1985
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by
Pat Gray
Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

April 30, 1973 – July 9, 1973
Succeeded by