Dr. Theodore W. Sudia, US National Park Service
(1925 - 2015)
My illustrious late father needs his own webpage, so this is a stub
I'll be expanding over time. If anyone who knew him wants to
contribute an essay, photos, or other materials, or even take over
the project, let me know.
Theodore W. Sudia on Google Scholar
Theodore W. Sudia Obituary (Pittsburgh, PA)
Theodore W. Sudia Obituary (George Wright Society) (PDF) Read
The above George Wright Forum obituary covers many of Ted's career
highlights, while hinting at the contradiction of his later life,
that he had alas (in the eyes of many) hit the “Peter Principle” and
risen to his “Level of Incompetence.” His lifetime of success in the
Boy Scouts, Navy, Academia, and Civil Service alas did NOT transfer
to Political Philosophy, and while he hoped to form a new
eco-political party, his ideas went over like a lead balloon. (At
one presentation I attended, several of his friends actually got up
and headed for the exit.)
Indeed, it tactfully omits that (as far as I know) Ted was expelled
from the highly successful Society of park
science professionals he had co-founded with colleagues he had
known since Navy days in WW2! He was certainly on the outs with
them, no doubt due to their lack of enthusiasm for his half baked,
late life, eco-political ideas.
Ted needed another PhD in Philosophy of Science, but this was the
late 20th century, before online seminars. He could have joined the
board of an environmental group, become a Dean of Ecology somewhere,
and/or finagled a residency in some Philosophy Department, but
instead wrote numerous (mostly unread) essays on how the National
Parks can be a model for a new vision of Society.
Despite his major, enduring impacts on US and global natural and
cultural resource management, only one of his professional friends,
his long term protege [MO], came to see him at the end.
= = = = =
Draft Collection of Ted Sudia Stories (raw biographical notes) –
Incomplete and not in order.
(Any teenage kid living in Washington, DC with both parents working
for the federal civil service could no doubt recall more, and
possibly better, stories than these.)
[Skipping over Ambridge, PA, Kent, Columbus & Toronto, OH, and
Our St Paul, Minnesota Era
Our family's summer of 1963 road trip to the Southwest, to areas
where he and his PhD advisor Arthur Herrick had previously studied
the plant life. Work for Green Giant on determining optimal harvest
times, based on degree-days, which led to their “Picked at the peak
of perfection” advertising jingle. Light rooms and big Xenon lamps,
to grow crops year round while adjusting the day length.
Considerable work on wheat rust and other plant diseases.
Their weekly Ag-Botany seminars by PhD students, professors, and
visiting professors, which were educational as well as social
events. He told me that a good title for a scientific paper was “The
Effect of X on Y.” He gave a guest lecture at some ag school,
including a list of suggested plant science research topics, which
they posted on the wall and used as their research agenda.
His first trip to Russia in 1963 as part of an early scientific
exchange, where he dressed like a Russian, was constantly tailed by
the KGB, and debriefed by the CIA on his return. The annual U Minn
Botany Dept sweet corn picnic at the Agricultural Experiment Station
at Rosemont, MN (which later inspired the annual NPS summer crab and
corn feast, held near the Tidal Basin). His publication on Flight
Distance in the Great Blue Heron appears to be a legitimate
ornithological research project, not the prank that he portrayed it
as to me. Someone later cited it in her PhD thesis on the Great Blue
His studies on absorption and translocation of radioactive isotopes
in crops, funded by the Atomic Energy Commission (now NRC) to assess
the effects of fallout from nuclear war. His using an automated
liquid scintillation counter to evaluate radioisotope labeled
samples of plant material, in a shielded refrigerated system
resembling a deep freezer. When he handed me a bar of Uranium 238
(the non-fissionable kind), the size of a candy bar, which was
stored wrapped in a sheet of Lead, so I could feel it was much
heavier than Lead.
Moving to Washington, DC (1967)
Failing to get tenure and promotion to full professor, he leaves U
Minn in 1967 to take a job with American Institute of Biological
Sciences (AIBS) working for director John Olive in Washington, DC.
While at AIBS he helps produce their magazine BioScience, serving as
book review editor.
Prior to him joining AIBS, John Olive, Ted, Glenn Herrick, myself,
and John's 2 sons (Kent & Craig?) went on like a 6-day, 10-lake
canoe trip in the Boundary Waters region north of Ely, MN, camping
on an island in the middle of some lake. A great wilderness
experience with 3 natural scientists.
Unemployed for 8-9 months after some falling out with Olive at AIBS,
he tries to found a National Graduate University on what was
then Avenel Farm, during which he met Dave Fegan, a local real
estate lawyer, who introduced him to MD GOP Congressman Gilbert
Gude. His old Navy buddies (Robert M. Linn & Albert G. Greene)
were doing science at the National Park Service, so between them and
an assist from Gude (during the Nixon Admin), he gets a senior civil
service appointment in the Park Service, and soon succeeds Linn as
NPS Chief Scientist, who later heads out to Isle Royal, MI, where he
runs the GWS.
[Also during the above unemployment, he got into Animal Behavior,
creating and observing a colony of gerbils. This research was never
published, but a) included the observation that many “animal
behaviors” were also seen in humans, suggesting that humans are more
primal than they suspect, and b) led to his Theory of Language and
Tools, a major influence on my early philosophical theories.]
His successful effort to move natural resource inventories into the
park maintenance budget, along with road repairs and snow removal,
where it was much less likely to be cut than if budgeted as
His creation of the Center
for Urban Ecology (CUE), and half dozen pamphlets on Urban
Ecology, including one titled The River in the City (1974),
in which he urged city planners to look upon rivers as a natural
asset, rather than the grubby or ruined dockyards more often seen
back then. This led to a renaissance of urban river and harbor
projects, such as Baltimore Harbor Place (1980), a successful
shopping and dining area, and multiple downtown river walk projects.
(Some of which predate and must have inspired him.)
When former Idaho governor Cecil D Andrus
became Secretary of the Interior, he brought along RM, a young
intern / briefcase-carrier, who had been his limo driver during the
Democratic Convention. A glib talking English major, RM told me he
once persuaded then House Speaker Top O'Neill to pull over on the
George Washington Parkway and chat with him (hopefully at one of the
overlooks). While everyone else at the Interior Dept was ignoring
him, Ted befriended RM, which allowed him to gain insight into top
level political affairs (3 tiers up), and considerably influence
them, by educating the lad on various topics.
His support for the first Inter-Agency Grizzly Bear Task Force,
which produced what was viewed as a workable scientific compromise
with the ranchers and environmental groups. The time he convinced
Interior Secretary James Watt, a devout evangelical Reagan
appointee, that it was God's Will that the Cape Hatteras
Lighthouse would fall into the Atlantic Ocean, due to continual
erosion and movement of barrier islands due to onshore currents, so
don't try to save it. His work on a Coastal Zone Management task
Another round of trips to Russia, now as a US government official,
helping them develop their parks. In Russian, Zapovednik means
“forever wild,” their word for national park. The time he asked a
Russian park manager what Basic Law was he operating under? He
replied, “Law, what law? There's this guy in the Kremlin. I call him
and he tells me what to do.” The drinking contests with Russian
officials, which due to his alcohol tolerance, he was winning. A
more senior Russian official, who could have been mistaken for
Khrushchev, had dinner at our home on Halloween, with a translator,
and was handing out candy to startled kids. The time he left three
seeds of the poisonous Russian yew tree (taxus baccata) on the
kitchen table and we mistakenly ate them (with no ill effects).
His creation, along with Linn, Greene, and others, of the highly
Wright Society, as a professional organization for natural and
cultural resource managers, which frequently hosts the heads of
relevant federal agencies as speakers at its events. Naming it after
the legendary first Chief Scientist of the National Park Service
back in the 1930s (who was independently wealthy) paid off later
when it elicited sizeable donations from his well-off family.
His policy for Evangelical groups at the Grand Canyon, that they
could tell their own followers the Canyon was made in 7 days, but
not anyone else. The time he had made so many trips to the NPS
Conference Center at Grand Canyon that he didn't bother to look in
the Canyon. The time he visited Haleakala in Hawaii Volcanoes, which
was shrouded in mist, but once he ascended, the fog cleared on time
for him to get the view.
[If you knew Ted and this list brings back memories, consider
opening a text or document file on your computer and type some notes
into it. Dates for these events would come in handy. Or if you
already wrote a relevant essay, I can post/link it or include it as
a chapter. All inputs will be credited, unless you prefer
The time he advocated a “let-burn” policy for the Great Yellowstone
Fire. As he explained it, the locals feared the fire was bad for
business, and sending scientists to meetings wasn't convincing them.
However, when those same scientists appeared on TV, saying the same
things, the locals believed them. Film production companies used the
event to capture dramatic footage of trees exploding in flames.
Things turned out fine when the area experienced a bloom and lush
greenery brought tourism back to normal.
His efforts to create Cooperative Agreements with Universities to a)
do surveys of park resources, b) pay them to read the relevant
literature, and c) train the next generation of students to do
science on natural lands. This was no more than what Green Giant,
General Mills, and other food companies had been doing at U Minn,
funding crop scientists to work on solving their problems, such as
when to pick peas for best taste and texture? Or how best to control
plant diseases like wheat rust or corn smut? Now he wanted to fund
Universities to look at solving NPS's problems.
Just as these Cooperative Agreements were successful, they triggered
a major anti-Science backlash within the Interior Dept, including
preposterous ethics allegations that he was taking kickbacks from
the Universities. The FBI cleared him of any such misconduct, which
would have been wholly unlike him, but the tension remained,
especially after Reagan was elected, and old style managers
accustomed to ruling the roost resented Science being used to
overrule them. They couldn't fire him due to Civil Service
protections, but he was relieved of duties, sent to the Turkey
Farm, a holding unit for unwanted staff, and assigned a desk
in the attic of 1100 L Street, NW with bird dung on it.
During the worst period, he spent 3 years at the Bureau of Indian
Affairs (BIA), which also has many land, water, and resource
management issues, where he worked effectively with tribes and other
stakeholders on numerous issues, including nearly creating an
American Indian Homeland. Coincidentally, my mother Cecelia Sudia over at HHS was working on
Indian Child Welfare, briefly making them a DC “power couple” on
The time he out-maneuvered the Secretary of the Smithsonian in a
dispute with the State of New York over Indian artifacts, and got
him fired, making me swear never to tell anyone what happened. The
time some medicine men looked at rudely stored Indian relics at the
Smithsonian and promptly left town saying, “The spirits aren't going
to like that.” The next day Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the
Potomac River killing 78 and 3 were killed in a Metro subway mishap.
Publication of MO's now classic book on The
Value of Conserving Genetic Resources, which Ted commissioned
her to write as an NPS science title, was delayed until 1984, due to
the Reagan Admin's lack of interest in promoting Ecology.
His efforts to help create parks and natural areas in other
countries, including Spain and Russia. The time he almost created a
major nature preserve in Indonesia(?), but one of his assistants
(LVK) leaked the deal, after which the billionaire power player
backed out and did nothing.
The time one of his assistants (CK) introduced Robert Redford, a
prominent figure in Conservation, to Ted's niece JG (my cousin, now
deceased), a purported psychic, which turned out badly. CK later got
an MD from Harvard Medical School, was diagnosed with cancer, tried
natural remedies that didn't work, and promptly died, sending his
costly Harvard MD down the drain. (A “70's Death,” as one friend
Ted stories from earlier times
Theodore W. Sudia was born in Ambridge, PA on October 10, 1925. The
youngest of eight children, his mother Paraskeva died when he was
age 3, of an abscessed tooth prior to wide availability of
penicillin. Raised by his older sisters, who apparently brutalized
him, he had a tough childhood, moving out to live with his married
eldest sister Anne at the earliest possible moment. His situation
was sufficiently unstable that he attended 4 different high schools.
What he learned from this, he later told me, was that what people
know about you is almost entirely what you tell them, so come up
with something positive.
The 8 children of Frank & Paraskeva Sudia in order were: Anne,
Marion, Frank Jr, Victoria, Helen,
Dorothy, W Daniel
(Danny), and Theodore (Ted), all now deceased. The first four
were somewhat older, causing them to be considered as 2 groups.
Born in 1925, he was 8 in 1933, the depths of the Great Depression.
No one had any money, and they certainly weren't giving it to him.
However, by chance he noticed that when he picked up discarded
cigarette packs, they sometimes contained a coin. His big mistake,
he told me, was telling others about it. After that, he never found
a coin in a cigarette pack again. (I've always seen this as a
parable about investment opportunities.)
One of his early jobs involved shoveling sand from one side of a
room to another in a Pittsburgh iron foundry. Each day a railroad
car would dump a load of sand on one side, and he and other guys
would shovel it over into carts on the other side. This job made him
decide to go to college.
Indisputably smart, he briefly attended Stevens Tech, a top ranked
engineering school in New Jersey. But the person who really taught
him Calculus was Snake Singleton, a machine tool operator at some
factory where he was working, thus enabling him to tutor me and
other relatives on this critical subject.
As I recall, he lied about his age to enlist in the Navy during
WW-2, no doubt with winks from Navy recruiters, which is certainly a
key fact in his life, since if he hadn't done this, he wouldn't have
qualified for free college (up through his PhD) and special VA home
loans, nor met my
During WW-2, enlisting in the US Navy as an underage kid, he
achieved no great rank, rising to something like Petty Officer, but
it was a coming of age experience, and solidified his strong
outgoing personality. Serving on a minesweeper in the Pacific, he
saw no combat, mainly clearing minefields by various means such as
dragging the mines up and shooting at them with rifles to detonate
them. Said he had been in all of the so-called "Seven Seas." He did
however live through a major typhoon, with 90 foot waves, during
which he was part of the piloting team. This later gave him enough
seamanship skills to avert disaster during a near-miss yachting
While serving as an asst quartermaster in the Navy, he was among
other things in charge of shipments of beer. Initially, each case
came with an opener, which by the time they received it, had punched
a hole and drained one can. Later, he said, the manufacturer fixed
this, but he didn't tell anyone and kept the extra beer for himself,
setting the stage for his later alcohol problems.
After the war he worked at North American Aviation in Columbus, OH
as a tooling inspector in an aircraft factory, no doubt because he
could pass a math exam, where his job was checking to see if special
tools and jigs matched the design specs, making him an expert
micrometer user. At the time they were using wrought iron skinning
jigs to bend sheets of aluminum into shapes needed for the wings and
skin of the plane. He wrote up a suggestion and dropped it in the
Suggestion Box that rather than wrought iron, they should use some
castable plastic filler material "such as auto body solder." This
generated a patent, too old to be online, and saved them $10s of
millions. He received a certificate of merit and a $20 savings bond,
along with a note to the effect that there was no other way to
reward him since the contribution was too great.
I don't know why he decided to major in Botany, Plant Physiology,
Plant Pathology, and Ecology, receiving arguably among the first
PhD's in Ecology from Ohio State in 1953, the year I was born.
Presumably some combination of inspiring teachers, wanting to get
out of heavy industry, the prospect of jobs in the agricultural
heartland, and possibly my mother's family's quaint, early-settler
Appalachian farm in Eastern Ohio, where they were still using a team
of horses to bring in hay.
Moving to Minnesota in 1954, he got a series of teaching jobs,
including teaching Earth Science at Winona State Teacher's College
(now part of U Minn), solidifying his knowledge of Geology and
Hydrology, which serve as the foundation for Ecology. During the 4
years we spent in Winona, MN, he served on the School Board, and my
2 younger sisters Rachael and Norah were born. Then in 1958 we moved
to St. Paul, MN, after he landed a job as a professor of Plant
Physiology & Botany, working in the old Agricultural Botany
Building on the St. Paul "Farm" Campus of U Minn, where I would
often hang out after school.
Okay, that's enough old Ted stories for now.
More to come as I generate, gather, and organize more material about
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Frank W. Sudia, All Rights Reserved