William Ruckelshaus, who defied Richard Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor during Watergate probe, dies at 87

The 'incorruptible' man, who had also served as the first and fifth administrator of the EPA, was remembered by people at a time when the US is witnessing yet another presidential impeachment probe.

                            William Ruckelshaus, who defied Richard Nixon's order to fire special prosecutor during Watergate probe, dies at 87
William Ruckelshaus (Source : Getty Images)

Americans recalled a piece of history this week when William Doyle Ruckelshaus, the person who is famous for defying an order of his president at the White House, died. He had quit his job at the State Department rather than carrying out Richard Nixon’s order to fire the special prosecutor probing the Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. Ruckelshaus was 87. 

The octogenarian was the first administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 1970 and 1973 and it was the same body that confirmed his death on Wednesday, November 27. Ruckelshaus had also served as an acting director of the FBI. His moment of fame came in 1973 when he was the deputy attorney general and followed the attorney general, Elliot Richardson, to put down the papers rather than implementing the order the embattled president had given to fire Archibald Cox, Watergate special prosecutor.

The act of firing didn’t stop, however, as the then solicitor general Robert Bork carried out what is infamously known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”. It led to huge protests across the US. 

(L-R) President Richard Nixon and William D Ruckelshaus (Photos by National Archive/Newsmakers; Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

'He was incorruptible'

At a time when the US is witnessing another impeachment inquiry, those who have a vivid memory of the 1970s’ episode (Nixon resigned before getting impeached) felt the loss of Ruckelshaus more.  “He was incorruptible. It was very disappointing for him to see this happening again in our country, and maybe on a larger scale. Deep decency in the face of corruption is needed now more than ever,” his longtime friend and Seattle philanthropist Martha Kongsgaard was quoted as saying, according to the Associated Press. 

Ruckelshaus was also known to be a strong administrator. His long career in civic service and business saw him focusing on air and water pollution and other environmental concerns. As an Indian state attorney general, Ruckelshaus had also worked on preventing industries and cities from polluting waters. As the head of the EPA again in the mid-1980s when Ronald Reagan was the president, Ruckelshaus had earned applause for making auto-manufacturers control air pollution and taking actions against US Steel and many other bodies that left polluting impact on water.

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