In her final years, the last surviving member of her generation of a famous conservation family had her own achievements recognized.
Half a century ago, Louise “Weezy” Murie MacLeod examined and cataloged about 100 flowers of Denali National Park. Her husband, Adolph Murie, took photographs of the blooms. The resulting manuscript, “McKinley Flora,” is due to be published this year.
MacLeod died Tuesday at St. John’s Medical Center, a little more than two months after her 100th birthday.
For most of her life, MacLeod stayed out of the limelight, focusing on the pioneering conservation work done by her husband, her half-sister, Mardy Murie, and brother-in-law Olaus Murie. They were driving forces behind the passage of the Wilderness Act and the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other accomplishments.
Botanist MacLeod came into her own in later life, friend Jean Jorgensen said.
“What a huge pleasure it was to see this piece of her life blooming,” Jorgensen said. “It was lovely for us to see her live long enough to spend some time being herself.”
Mary Lohuis, the friend who helped Denali park officials find MacLeod’s lost flower manuscript in a warehouse and get it on track for publication, said she has “had assurances” that the book will be published. She said she wishes MacLeod could have held on long enough to see it happen.
“It makes me really sad,” Lohuis said. “I wanted for her to have a copy of it in her hands.”
A recent conversation with Mac-Leod’s son, Jan Murie, helped Lohuis feel a bit better.
“He said just the anticipation that the publication will happen has been so exciting for her,” Lohuis said.
She was born in Alaska
MacLeod was born Louise Gillette in 1912 in Fairbanks, Alaska. She was only 10 when she met 23-year-old biologist Adolph Murie, who had traveled to Alaska with his brother, Olaus, to study caribou. In an interview with the News&Guide in March 2011, she recounted that visit.
“When he had to leave, he said, ‘Aren’t you going to kiss me goodbye?’ she said. “He kissed me on the cheek, and the place where he kissed me burned for a long time.’”
The two corresponded over the years and married in 1932 at their siblings’ home in Jackson Hole. After a short honeymoon in Yellowstone, the newlyweds headed for the University of Michigan, where he helped curate the college’s zoology museum and she studied botany.
In the mid-1940s, the Murie couples bought the STS Ranch in Moose, which is now surrounded by Grand Teton National Park and called The Murie Center. MacLeod learned quickly how to milk a cow, make butter and raise two children with scarce resources.
Those skills were invaluable when her husband got a job with the National Park Service as a biologist in Mount McKinley National Park (later renamed Denali).
“So I went along, and took the children,” MacLeod said. “That was a saga in itself, living in a ranger cabin without running water. There was a stream about 150 yards away. Ade said he carried enough water to wash enough diapers to stretch around the bounds of McKinley Park.”
When out-of-towners on bus tours would come through, he would tell them “that the park’s boundaries needed to be expanded because the animals needed more room than they had,” she said. “And they finally did.”
Flowers fascinated her
In the 2011 interview, MacLeod talked about her obsession with Denali’s flowers.
“I carried a magnifying glass around my neck and studied the flowers, down to the little hairs,” she said.
In all, she and Adolph Murie spent more than 25 summers in Denali. After he died in 1974, MacLeod mailed a dozen cartons of labeled plant specimens to the University of Alaska.
“They were happy to get them,” she said, “because they were accurately labeled.”
She married family friend Donald “Doc” MacLeod, and they traveled quite a bit, but he died in 1983.
Over the years, Phil Hocker said, he and his wife, Jean, had many talks with MacLeod about the far north, “the thick clouds of bugs and camping in ‘the bush.’ We had ‘shared suffering’ in common with Weezy.”
So for her 100th birthday, MacLeod received from the Hockers a mosquito net, which she promptly put on.
MacLeod was a longtime member of the Jackson Hole Conservation Alliance. Hocker remembers the board struggling over what position to take on a proposed Spring Creek Ranch development on East Gros Ventre Butte.
“‘Well, somebody needs to be against it,’” Hocker remembers MacLeod saying. So the alliance went to work.
In 2011, MacLeod said service to others is one key to longevity.
“You should devote yourself to helping other people as much as you can,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for, I think.”