Gilbert Gude, 84; GOP Legislator, Environmentalist

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 9, 2007; B06

Gilbert Gude, a former Republican congressman from Montgomery County who championed environmental causes and introduced a bill to preserve the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and make it a national park, died June 7 of congestive heart failure at Sibley Memorial Hospital. He was 84.

Mr. Gude (pronounced GOO-dee), a longtime resident of Bethesda, served five terms in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1967 to 1977 and was proud of being both a Republican and a liberal. He was an ardent environmentalist who worked to protect the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay, wild horses in the West and the quality of the nation's air.

A native of Washington, he was also an early advocate for D.C. home rule and a sponsor of legislation that led to the building of the Metro system. But his crowning achievement may have been saving the scenic C&O Canal, which stretches 185 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Md.

He spearheaded efforts to stop plans for a highway alongside the canal, then introduced the bill that resulted in the restoration of the 19th-century waterway and the creation, in 1971, of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Park, the country's narrowest national park.

Possessing a deep knowledge of nature and plants from boyhood, when he worked in his family's nursery business in Rockville, Mr. Gude stated his environmental principles while introducing a 1969 bill to protect the Potomac River valley.

"The choice," he said, "is between a river comprised of wilderness, open space, developed recreation areas and farmland, interspersed with towns and areas of commerce or a mammoth open storm drain running through nightmarish strips of oversized cities, suburbs and Coney Islands."

In 1975, he led a three-week tour of the upper Potomac, traveling by foot, bicycle, canoe and horseback from Fairfax Stone, W.Va., to Luke, Md.

"It's pretty but without life," he told The Washington Post. "The whole length is just dead. There are no birds or insects or any of the things associated with streams."

Mr. Gude sponsored the Wild Free-Roaming Horse and Burro Act of 1971, which protected wild mustangs in the rural West. He was alerted to the problem by one of his sons, who told him that hundreds of horses were rounded up by helicopter, killed and sold for dog food.

Mr. Gude introduced measures to improve air quality in the District and to limit noise pollution around airports. His amendment to the Clean Air Act of 1970 required auto emission tests to be published annually.

When making his first run for Congress in 1966 in a largely Democratic district, Mr. Gude called himself "a liberal on civil rights and a moderate on fiscal matters." By his second term, his votes matched the recommendations of the conservative Americans for Constitutional Action only 29 percent of the time. His rating from the liberal Americans for Democratic Action, by contrast, was 67 percent.

He supported limits on cigarette advertising, restrictions on handgun ownership and a tighter rein on military spending. As early as 1969, he voiced opposition to the Vietnam War, and he was one of the first members of Congress of either party to suggest that President Richard M. Nixon should be impeached for his role in the Watergate scandal. Mr. Gude received hate mail after introducing a bill that would have removed J. Edgar Hoover's name from the FBI building.

Nonetheless, he was reelected four times by wide margins, polling 66 percent of the vote during his final campaign in 1974. He never lost an election.

When he announced his resignation in 1976 "to lead a more balanced life," other members of Congress -- and members of his family -- were stunned.

"When you start losing the Gil Gudes," one Capitol Hill aide told The Post in 1976, "then Congress is in trouble."

Mr. Gude, born March 9, 1923, was the son of a prosperous owner of a nursery and landscaping company. He graduated from Wilson High School. The family home in North Chevy Chase, Woodend Mansion, is now the headquarters of the Audubon Naturalist Society.

Mr. Gude served in the Army Medical Corps during World War II and received a bachelor's degree in horticulture from Cornell University in 1948. He worked in the family business before being appointed to the Maryland House of Delegates in 1953. He received a master's degree in public administration from George Washington University in 1958.

He was Republican chairman of Montgomery County and served in the state Senate between 1962 and 1967 before going to Congress.

When Mr. Gude resigned his seat, he received a call from Librarian of Congress Daniel Boorstin, who offered him the job of director of the Congressional Research Service at the Library of Congress. He held that post until 1986 and became an international authority on legislative libraries.

In his later years, Mr. Gude wrote two books about the Potomac and taught courses on history and the environment at Georgetown University. He and his wife lived in Bethesda until several weeks ago, when they moved to an assisted living facility affiliated with Sibley Hospital in Washington.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, Jane Callaghan Gude of Washington; five children, Sharon Gude of Rockville, Adrienne Lewis of Washington, Gilbert Gude Jr. of Bethesda and Gregory Gude and Daniel Gude, both of Cabin John; and three grandchildren.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company