American Heroes - Maurice K Goddard

The Heart of a Lion

  • Susan Q. Stranahan
  • Feb 01, 1996
In 1936, Maurice K. Goddard, a lanky 24-year-old teacher at Pennsylvania's state forestry school, collected two water samples from a small creek near the school. One was taken upstream from a large tomato-processing plant, the other just below the firm's discharge pipe.

The upstream sample was pure; the downstream water dark and murky. Goddard persuaded the owner of a local sporting goods store to prominently display the two jars in his shop window "Do you know how long that lasted?" Goddard recalled years later. Within hours, the store owner had received a visit from officials of the local chamber of commerce and the canning factory, which threatened to boycott the store.

The jars disappeared, but Goddard did not. For the next six decades, almost every action he took was guided by a simple credo: Natural resources exist for the enjoyment of all. As a result of his efforts, Pennsylvania has one of the nation's largest state park systems; its landmark laws on clean streams, air pollution and coal mining became models years later for federal statutes; and management plans exist for the state's three major watersheds.

"Doc" Goddard, as he was widely known, served under five governors as Pennsylvania's chief environmental official for more than 24 years. For the next 16, after his retirement, he became the state's unofficial conservation conscience, constantly lobbying officials. For six years, until 1993, he served as a director-at-large of the National Wildlife Federation.

On September 14, 1995, one day after his eighty-third birthday, Maurice Goddard died. "He was one of the great conservationists of our time," says NWF President William W. Howard. "He had a big, booming laugh that was truly infectious, and he had the heart of a lion. No one ever accused Maurice Goddard of lacking the courage or perseverence to tackle the toughest of jobs."

These characteristics were put to the test in 1971, when Goddard was nominated to become Pennsylvania's first secretary of environmental resources. The strong-willed forester was no stranger to the state legislature, having served for the previous 16 years as state secretary of forests and waters. During that time, he had aggressively pursued his dream of putting a state park within 25 miles of every Pennsylvanian.

"His confirmation was blocked by a state senator from suburban Philadelphia who feared young black children would utilize the park proposed for the senator's district," recalls Larry Schweiger of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. "Goddard would not bend on the park; the senator would not budge on the confirmation."

The standoff lasted for 13 months. Finally, Goddard was summoned to a meeting with the senate leadership,which hoped to broker a face-saving compromise. Schweiger, then a young legislative aide in Harrisburg, recounted the moment:

"Doc told them, 'This is about a state park and black children from Philadelphia. Ten years from now, those kids will not know or care who Maurice Goddard is, but they will know and care about their state parks. If this vote is between a state park and Goddard, I'm going with the park.' Then he left the room." Goddard was confirmed 49-1.

In subsequent years, Goddard was legendary for his ability to recall even the smallest parcel of land acquired by the state — a considerable accomplishment, considering the fact that during his tenure, the state created 45 parks incorporating 130,000 acres.

Goddard's legacy is felt in subtle ways as well. When he joined state government in 1955, conservation jobs were patronage appointments, passed among the political faithful. In one of his first acts, Goddard successfully lobbied lawmakers to turn such jobs into civil service positions. That, in turn, enabled many young foresters, biologists and engineers to make a career of conservation in Pennsylvania.

Shortly before his death, Goddard achieved a long-sought goal when Pennsylvania's large Department of Environmental Resources was divided into two agencies: a new Department of Conservation and Natural Resources as well as a Department of Environmental Protection. That division was, friends say, one of his happiest moments, for he long believed conservation had taken a back seat to environmental regulation.

On a warm fall afternoon, more than 300 friends gathered for a memorial service in the town of Camp Hill. The service was simple. "Maurice K. Goddard's eulogy has been written," said the church rector. "It was his life."

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