Nation's largest propane company reverses stand about Iditarod sponsorship

Posted: Thursday, March 30, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- After a push from the Alaska Legislature, the nation's largest propane company has dropped its opposition to sponsorship of Iditarod musher Ramy Brooks by a Fairbanks affiliate.

House Speaker Brian Porter, R-Anchorage, said he got the word in a letter from Paul Grady, senior vice president of operations for AmeriGas.

''We want you to know that we fully support our local service manager, Vic Hughes, and his decision to provide local AmeriGas support for Mr. Brooks and the Iditarod, and will continue to so in the future,'' Grady said in his March 24 letter.

The initial company directive was the result of miscommunication, Grady wrote.

''We at the corporate offices were unaware of the local AmeriGas involvement in the race. For that reason only, we issued an inaccurate communication stating that AmeriGas was not supporting the Iditarod and Mr. Brooks.''

The reversal came only weeks after Hughes said he would rather quit than go along with a corporate directive issued on the eve of this year's Iditarod to sever sponsorship ties with Brooks, who had won the Yukon Quest in 1999.

''They found out we can yell as loud as the animal rights folks,'' Porter said Wednesday. ''And we usually get the last word.''

The order came down through company channels after an animal rights group flooded the corporation's national Web site with e-mails critical of the 1,100-mile mushing marathon from Anchorage to Nome.

The unexpected complaints shocked and dismayed Brooks, whose mother, Roxy Wright, and grandfather, Gareth Wright, are celebrated former sprint racing champions.

''To have people who don't even know anything about it saying things about me -- it's just wrong,'' Brooks said before the race. ''We live with these dogs, sometimes 14- to 16 hours a day. For someone to suggest we don't have their best interest in mind -- it really bothers me.''

Brooks managed to finish fourth, despite all the controversy.

Hughes' sponsorship of Brooks didn't involve any cash. He provided a handful of propane tanks and appliances sold at cost for use at the musher's cabin at Healy.

The Fairbanks sales manager's refusal to ask Brooks to strip off the AmeriGas logos has repaid that small investment many times over.

''Oh man, I've had so many phone calls,'' Hughes told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. ''Everybody supported me personally. We picked up several new customers.''

Many Alaskans were angered about the corporation's attempt to distance itself from the Iditarod.

''Your company's decision directing the local distributor to withdraw the sponsorship has generated a storm of negative publicity against AmeriGas,'' Rep. Tom Brice, D-Fairbanks, wrote in a March 8 letter to the propane company's headquarters at Valley Forge, Pa.

''Do not bow down to the tyranny of a few ill-guided activists,'' Brice wrote. 11We urge you to reconsider the sponsorship issue.''

More than two-dozen legislators signed the letter urging company officials to reconsider the sponsorship issue, including Porter.

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