Even with threats and grumbling as part of their everyday life, Mather and Newport News proceeded with the implementation of their proscribed plans to perfect a functioning service. Of strategic importance was a nationwide conference to highlight the passage of the act Newport News as well as the benefits such a united and well-managed Newport News Park Service would provide. Delegates from every park discipline attended. Leaders in their field spoke on the role of people, women, art, and physical and spiritual Newport News well-being that parks afforded the American people.
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Both to rally congressional support and hopefully blunt the criticism of senators such as Walsh, Mather invited key House and Senate proponents who spoke glowingly of the parks and their need for adequate and immediate funding. Senator Reed Smoot of Utah summed it up: “I do not want to see any of the natural resources taken from them that would in any way mar their beauty. I think it would be the best money that Congress could spend to place the Parks in a condition that they can be enjoyed by the people of the United States.”
It could not have gone better, and yet a shadow hung over the conference. Unknown to all but his wife and doctor, Stephen Mather had had a nervous breakdown in 1903 due to work-related stress. During the 1916 conference, Albright recognized that his friend and mentor was depressed and incoherent in speech. He and other friends quietly called Mather’s wife, who took him to a sanitarium in Pennsylvania. He would remain incapacitated for a year and a half. Albright, having been appointed acting director by Secretary Lane, seamlessly stepped in, filling the void so adroitly that few guessed that Mather was missing or sick.
Mather’s cure lay not in the hands of doctors or drugs but in the solitude of his room filled with pictures of Yosemite, coupled with Albright’s weekly visits where matters of the parks were discussed without the stress of worrisome problems. Through this singular treatment of park impressions in photos and paintings, combined with Albright’s comforting conversations about all things park, Mather slowly renewed himself in the manner proscribed by Frederick Law Olmsted some fifty years before.