Elvis Jacob Stahr, Jr. – Lieutenant Colonel, United States Army Secretary of the Army

From a contemporary press report

Elvis J. Stahr Jr., 82, the secretary of the Army during the first two years of the Kennedy administration who also had been a university president, lawyer and president of the National Audubon Society, died of cancer November 11, 1998 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Mr. Stahr had been president of West Virginia University and Indiana University. He accepted the presidency of the National Audubon Society in 1968, and he guided the  society during a decade of increasing sensitivity and awareness of environmental issues. He retired from Audubon in 1981. Since then, he practiced law in Washington and elsewhere and lobbied on environmental issues.

He was secretary of the Army in 1961 and 1962, a period that included the Berlin crisis and the ill-fated,  CIA-sponsored Bay of Pigs invasion aimed at ousting Fidel Castro from power in Cuba. To his job at the Pentagon, he was said to have brought a nimble mind and a down-to-earth approach to a complicated job.

Assuming the presidency of the Audubon Society in 1968, he took charge of an organization known chiefly for a little-old-lady-in-tennis-shoes image, and he forged it into a major player in the environmental movement that swept the country.

“In 1968, there was not yet a ban on DDT, there was not yet an Environmental Protection Agency or a Council on Environmental Quality, nor were environmental impact statements yet heard of,” Mr. Stahr observed at an environmental conference in 1978.

Under Mr. Stahr's leadership, the Audubon Society undertook a campaign to increase its influence and membership, which in 10 years more than quadrupled to almost 400,000. As president of the Audubon Society, Mr. Stahr led efforts to preserve the Florida Everglades
from commercial and industrial development, fought for accords on international whaling practices and campaigned successfully to liberalize U.S. tax laws to allow charitable organizations to lobby on public policy issues.

“There has been a genuine campaign on the part of many industries — a propaganda campaign, so to speak — to promote the notion to the American public that  environmentalism has gone too far,” Mr. Stahr said in 1978. “They've hammered away at it and hammered away at it. They've claimed that a good environment is bad for people and a bad environment is good for people, and they've got a lot of idiots believing that.”

Mr. Stahr was born in Hickman, Ky., and he graduated from the University of Kentucky in 1936 with all A's. He won a Rhodes Scholarship and spent the next three years at Oxford University's Merton College, where he received degrees in jurisprudence and civil law. He was known popularly at Oxford as “the Colonel,” and he was said to have resisted assuming British affectations.

Returning to the United States, he practiced law in New York, then studied Chinese at Yale and served in the Army in combat units in China during World War II.

He returned to practicing law in New York after the war, then in 1947 became a law professor at the University of Kentucky. He was named dean of the University of Kentucky Law School and served in that capacity until 1956. During the Korean War, he took a 16-month leave of absence to serve as special assistant to Secretary of the Army Frank Pace Jr.

In 1956, Mr. Stahr was back in Washington as staff director of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Commission on Education Beyond High School. He was vice chancellor for the professions at the University of Pittsburgh in 1957 and 1958 and president of West Virginia University from 1958 until he became secretary of the Army in 1961.

In 1962, Mr. Stahr became president of Indiana University. He was president of the Association of the United States Army from 1965 to 1968.

He had served on several corporate boards of directors, including Chase Manhattan Corp. and Acadia Mutual Life Insurance Co.

Survivors include his wife of 52 years, Dorothy Howland Berkfield Stahr of Greenwich; three children, Stephanie Stahr of Vienna, Stuart Stahr of Wappinger, N.Y., and Bradford Stahr of Greenwich; and two grandchildren.

Buried in Section 7-A, Grave 76, Arlington National Cemetery on Tuesday, November 24, 1998.


On November 11, 1998. He is survived by his wife, Dorothy Howland Berkfield Stahr; his children, Stephanie, Stuart, and Bradford Stahr, and his grandchildren, Emily and Jessica Metzger. Services will be held at Old Post Chapel, Ft. Myer, VA at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, November 24. Burial will follow at Arlington National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The National Audubon Society, 700 Broadway, New York, NY 10003 or The Indiana University Foundation, PO Box 500, Bloomington, Indiana 47402.

ejstahr3 stahr02 stahr1 ejstahr-100302-mrp ejstahrjr-gravesite-7a-062803

Read our general and most popular articles

Leave a Comment