Gilman, Cranston will be missed on peninsula, in state


Posted: Friday, July 22, 2005

True statesmen. Tireless public servants. Mentors. Indispensable sources of information. Educators. Men of integrity. Loyal friends and fans of the Kenai Peninsula and Alaska.

The peninsula lost two powerful allies this week. The deaths of Don Gilman on Monday and Charles Cranston on Tuesday left a big hole in the hearts of many.

Gilman, a longtime borough mayor and a former state senator, and his wife, Nikki, had moved to Phoenix, Ariz., only last week.

It was exactly 30 years ago that Gilman, then 41, first entered politics, as a candidate for borough mayor. That first campaign revealed two of the cornerstones of Gilman's philosophy and politics: planning (which was not synonymous with zoning) and good communication.

"We can't provide sensible service without planning. Assemblymen are being asked questions and only if they will beat people around the ears at the borough can they get information. Assemblymen must have data with which to see the overall picture of where the borough stands," Gilman told a southern peninsula audience in August of 1975.

After he was elected, Gilman walked the talk of his campaign. He provided assembly members with the information they needed, when they needed it, but he didn't stop there. He knew an informed citizenry was in the borough's best interest and he never seemed to tire of giving people sound information on which to base their decisions.

A recurring theme of Gilman's first campaign — indeed, his entire political career — is reflected in a statement from a 1975 interview with him: "We need to try to restore public confidence in government. We need someone who is candid."

Gilman fit that bill perfectly. People could count on getting a straight, meaningful answer from him. No bureaucratic jargon. No political double-talk. He was known for telling it like it was and standing behind what he said. There was no doubt where he stood on issues, yet he could and did work well with those who didn't agree with him.

Although he was a Republican, he kept partisan issues out of the mayor's office and worked across party lines in the best interest of the peninsula and the state. He was well respected by those of all political persuasions — and no political persuasion at all.

He mentored anyone who sought him out and was a source of sage advice to those in office today. He helped an untold number of people in their political careers. His pragmatic optimism — and sense of humor — will be sorely missed.

Gilman never forgot that the public was his boss — and that may be one of the most important lessons he modeled during his lifetime.

Judge Cranston began his relationship with Alaska in 1968, when he and his wife, Nancy, moved to Juneau so he could start a job with the Attorney General's Office. Thirteen years later, they found the peninsula and made it their home.

In 1996, Cranston retired from his position with the Kenai Superior Court. But as anyone who knows him will tell you, he could never retire.

He was instrumental in the founding of the Kenai Peninsula Youth Court and spent many hours helping peninsula youth prepare for state competitions.

Children ranked high on Cranston's list of what's important in life. His dedication to kids extended to hosting foreign exchange students, tutoring foreign languages over his lunch hour and guiding local youth on annual bike tours of Europe.

Ginny Espenshade, the Youth Court director, can vouch for the passion he had for kids and how big his heart was.

"He could see the good in any kid that came through our doors. He gave hours of training to youth court students. ... It was his energy that created this program."

His reputation was that of a fair judge and a compassionate man.

"He had the wisdom of Solomon. Anyone who is a judge in Alaska would look up to him as the epitome. He was a judge for all times," said Carol Brenckle, a friend for nearly 20 years.

"He was just a prankster. I really feel fortunate to have gotten to know him that way, as a person, I mean."

In 1997, the Kenai Chamber of Commerce recognized Cranston's volunteer service with its annual Log Cabin Award. He left a valuable impact on those he touched through his experience, his wisdom, his leadership and his knowledge, as well as his community.

"He was bigger than life," Espenshade said.

Our sincere condolences go to both families and their many, many friends throughout the borough and state.

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