Native rights advocate Robert Willard dies

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Robert Willard, a longtime Native rights activist, died late last week in Juneau at age 64.

''Alaskans will remember Bob Willard as one of the boldest and most tireless advocates for Native rights in the last 50 years,'' said Carlton Smith, CEO of Kootznoowoo Inc., Angoon's village Native corporation.

Born and raised in Angoon, Willard's work included stints as executive director of the Commission for Human Rights under then-Gov. Bill Egan, director of the Tlingit-Haida Housing Authority in Juneau and president of the Southeast Native Subsistence Committee. He was Alaska's first Native state trooper.

Ethel Lund, former president of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, recalled Willard negotiating for the organization's first contract with Indian Health Service when he was interim executive director for the consortium.

''Just about everything that impacted Native life here in Southeast, Bob was involved in,'' Lund said. ''He was just kind of a can-do person, a problem solver.''

Native lands claims activist John Borbridge said Willard lobbied for Native causes, including working on behalf of landless communities seeking an amendment to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Willard's wife, Desa Jacobsson, a subsistence activist, said his greatest quality was his kindness.

They met in the early 1990s, when Jacobsson was incarcerated on subsistence charges. She said she prayed for an intelligent person with a clean lifestyle who would understand her activist work. Shortly after, she got a call from Willard.

''He asked me, 'How are you?' and I said, 'Fine.' And he said, 'No, how are you?' And the way he said (it) really did something to me. His tone of voice -- here was someone for the first time who cared about me as a human being,'' Jacobsson said.

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