To longtime participants of the WRRI Annual New Mexico Water Conference, Professor Al Utton’s presence at this year’s conference was sorely missed. Having attended nearly every annual water conference since the early 1970s, Al will be remembered for his thoughtful comments and questions following many conference presentations, his vast institutional memory of water resources in New Mexico as well as regionally and internationally, and his congeniality to everyone who had the pleasure of knowing him.
After a hard-fought battle against prostate cancer, Al died on September 29 in Albuquerque. He is survived by Mary, his wife of 40 years, their son, John, an attorney specializing in water law who has distinguished himself in the New Mexico water community, and daughter, Jennifer Fergusson. During the many years he lived and worked in New Mexico, he was a well-known teacher, scholar and public citizen. His humor, kindliness and vitality endeared him to many. He was 67.
A native of Aztec, New Mexico, Al graduated in 1953 with Phi Beta Kappa honors in geology from the University of New Mexico. While at UNM he was elected and served as student body president his senior year. He then attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, receiving his law degree from that institution in 1956.
While in England, Al also served as assistant staff judge advocate in the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General’s Office. He then undertook further law studies at the University of London. He was admitted in 1959 to the Inner Temple of the English Bar as a Barrister, and later that year was admitted to practice law in New Mexico.
He later was to say that even though he cherished his law degree, his most beloved gift from England was his wife, Mary.
After a brief stint in private practice in Albuquerque, in 1962, Al was awarded a fellowship in International and Administrative Law at the Yale Law School and that same year returned to New Mexico to join the UNM Faculty of Law. He remained a valued, distinguished, and beloved member of the Law School faculty until his death.
Al taught in the areas of administrative law, water law, environmental law, and international law, and was admired by a host of New Mexico lawyers who began their studies under his tutelage. During his long teaching career, he served on every important committee with the Law School as well as serving as Interim Dean.
In addition, Al was often called upon to chair other important committees within the University. On several occasions he represented the Law School by serving as chairperson of the State Judicial Selection Commission. Because of his strong interest and expertise in inter-disciplinary study, he was well-known throughout the University community, and frequently worked with colleagues in economics, Latin American studies, political science, business, and public administration.
Early in his career at the Law School, he became Editor-in-Chief of the internationally renowned Natural Resources Journal. He created and directed the special certificate program in Natural Resources Studies, and also directed the Natural Resources Center at the Law School. Al wrote and published over twenty books and monographs in various areas of natural resources law and international law. He authored numerous articles which have been published in law reviews and journals around the world. He established a faculty exchange program between the Law School and the University of Granada, in Spain. He also created a certificate program in U.S. Law for foreign service officers of the Mexican Diplomatic Service.
Over the last twenty years, Al focused his considerable talents and energy on international transboundary resources issues. In the late 1980s, Al founded and then served as Director of the International Transboundary Resources Committee of the International Law Association, co-authored a draft U.S.-Mexican Transboundary Water Resources Treaty, and served as a consultant and conference participant on transboundary resources questions in North and South America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. Al also served as the Organizing Chairperson of numerous international conferences dealing with inter-national groundwater questions, U.S.-Mexico transboundary issues as well as Canadian/U.S./Mexico relations. In the process, he developed many professional relationships and close friendships.
Closer to home, Professor Utton served for nearly 20 years as chairperson of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, which oversees all the state’s major rivers, and he represented the state in negotiating a water rights settlement with the Jicarilla Apache Tribe. He chaired and participated in numerous Bar Association panels dealing with environmental law, water rights, and transboundary resources questions.
In addition, he was active in many community groups and organizations. He served as chairperson of the state Rhodes Scholar selection committee and of the Albuquerque Labor Relations Board. For over 30 years he was secretary and director of the Albuquerque Committee on Foreign Relations, bringing to the city many national and international scholars and diplomats for informal discussion of the international issues of the day.
Active in Democratic politics, he served as state manager of Robert Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign.
Al was the recipient of local, national and international awards too numerous to list, but three stand out: in 1994 he was given one of the highest honors that UNM bestows upon its faculty when he was selected by the University to deliver the annual Research Lecture. In 1996 he was the recipient of the Distinguished Service Achievement Award from the UNM Law School Alumni Association, and last year, the Mexican Government bestowed upon Al the Aztec Eagle Award the highest honor given by Mexico to a non-citizen “for service to Mexico and to Humanity.”
In his spare time, Al was devoted to a number of interests and passions. He was an avid Lobo fan, never missing either a football or basketball game when he was in town, and straining mightily to find the Lobos on the radio when he was out of town. He was also an animal lover and particularly looked forward to the enthusiastic greeting of his pet dogs upon his return.
Al was an aficionado of adobe brick laying, design and construction, having built with his own hands the family’s first house in Corrales, more recently a house in Santa Fe and a long-time family residence, fondly referred to as “Casa Utton” on the West Mesa overlooking the bosque and his beloved Rio Grande.
His son, John, said, “My dad once told me that he had laid more than 100,000 adobes in his life. Not only did he love adobe architecture as an art, but also because it represented the natural New Mexico landscape. To him, adobes represented the perfect balance between earth and water, and two of the most natural resources we have.”
Finally, he enjoyed travel and with it the opportunity to meet and learn about peoples and customs of different cultures and countries. Wherever he went, Al enjoyed meeting people and making friends.
“Al Utton was the heart and soul of this institution,” said Dean Robert Desidereo of the UNM Law School. “The institution will go on, but it will take a long time for us to recover from the loss of Al’s special gifts and his special presence among us.” Jose L. Martinez, a long-time colleague, observed: “Al was a person who loved life, loved his work, and in turn was loved by everyone he taught or came into contact with. He was truly ‘un Hombre Bueno’ in the finest New Mexico tradition.”
Al Utton’s association with the New Mexico WRRI spanned nearly thirty years. A member of the institute’s Program Development and Review Board from 1969 to 1987, his advice was always well received. Al had served on the Water Conference Advisory Committee since 1983. Just last year, Al took a bus from Albuquerque to the conference site in Tucumcari. He arrived his usual buoyant self and regaled some friends with how much he enjoyed the trip and the interesting people he met.
Even after being replaced on the Interstate Stream Commission, John Utton recalls that his father rarely, if ever, missed an ISC meeting. Al would participate in any water meeting he could attend, John indicated at this year’s Annual New Mexico Water Conference.
Whereas memorable adages like “Whiskey is for drinking but water is for fighting” abound, the quote that could best characterize Al Utton’s sentiments toward our precious water resource is “Water is for Sharing.”
Our water community will profoundly miss Al Utton.
Contributors include Michael Browde and Robert J. Desidereo of the UNM Law School and John Utton