Hammond dies

Former governor, father of permanent fund remembered as open, fair leader

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005


  Former Gov. Jay Hammond monitors proceedings at the Conference of Alaskans in February 2004 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Hammond, a bush pilot and hunting guide who served two terms as Alaska's governor during a period that helped define modern Alaska, died Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2005, at his Lake Clark home, police said. He was 83. AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, E

Former Gov. Jay Hammond monitors proceedings at the Conference of Alaskans in February 2004 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Hammond, a bush pilot and hunting guide who served two terms as Alaska's governor during a period that helped define modern Alaska, died Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2005, at his Lake Clark home, police said. He was 83.

AP Photo/Anchorage Daily News, E

JUNEAU — Jay Hammond, a rugged bush pilot and hunting guide who served two terms as Alaska's governor and helped create the Alaska Permanent Fund, died in his sleep at his Lake Clark home at 83.

Hammond was found in bed Tuesday morning by his wife Bella in their homestead some 185 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to Alaska State Troopers. He died of natural causes, troopers said.

Hammond, a Republican and a conservationist in a pro-development state, served in the Alaska Legislature for 12 years and was governor from 1975 to 1982. He oversaw the first flow of oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1977 and was a major advocate of creating the permanent fund as a savings account for the state's oil wealth. During his time in office, federal land reserves grew vastly, fishery stocks revived and a broad-based tourism industry was born.

Bearded and barrel-chested, Hammond looked every bit the stereotypical rugged Alaskan to the outside world. In the state, his style combined folksy speech and self-deprecating humor.

''A novelist writing a story about Alaska couldn't come up with a better stereotype of what a governor should be in this state,'' said former Alaska House Speaker Ben Grussendorf. ''Here he was, a professional guide, a hunter, an outdoorsman, a fisherman, and to top it off he was a poet and a writer. Heck, that's what everybody would like to be in Alaska.''

Grussendorf recalled being summoned to Hammond's office soon after being elected in 1980. Hammond sat him down and asked what he could do for the new representative, and Grussendorf rattled off a few ideas. Hammond nodded along, and when he was done said, ''Now young man, this is what you can do for me.''

Former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat who worked for Hammond for six years, said Hammond would frequently call in his staff and commissioners — a mix of Republicans, Democrats and independents — to debate ideas. He would be open to all suggestions, she said, but the ones that stuck were those that survived his three-pronged test: It must be environmentally sound, pay its own way and wanted by the people.

''He was an incredibly good governor because he was a good listener and he wanted to do what was right, and not the first thing that came to his head,'' Ulmer said. ''Jay was a very honorable man with high standards of principle and morality.''

Kenai Peninsula legislators were saddened by the news of Hammond's death.

Sen. Tom Wagoner, R-Kenai, said he heard about it during a meeting with Gov. Frank Murkowski.

Wagoner characterized Hammond as someone who stood out as "part of the history of the state of Alaska."

"He did a lot of great things for the state," Wagoner said.

Rep. Paul Seaton, R-Homer said he did not know Hammond, "except by his reputation and his service."

"Everybody has always looked up to him as being a straight shooter," Seaton said, adding that Hammond had a lot of ideas.

"It came as a real shock," said Rep. Kurt Olson, R-Soldotna.

Olson said he saw Hammond a couple of weeks ago and did not realize it would probably be one of his last public appearances. He said he really wished he had the opportunity to talk with him more.

Rep. Mike Chenault said he did not know Hammond personally. However, he said he'd met the former governor a number of times and always found him to be someone who was more than willing to take time out to listen to and consider various points of view.

"Every time I met with him he was open and willing to talk about issues concerning the state of Alaska," said Chenault, R-Nikiski.

Hammond was born July 21, 1922, in Troy, N.Y. The son of a Methodist minister, he briefly attended Penn State University before enlisting in the Marine Corps during World War II and serving as a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater.

Hammond moved to Alaska in 1946 to work as a pilot. It was the first of many jobs for Hammond — trapper, wildlife biologist, government hunter, hunting guide, commercial fisherman and later, according to his 1994 autobiography, ''Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor,'' a reluctant politician.

''When it came to politics, as in many other of life's activities, I preferred to be a loner,'' he wrote. ''Political power or leadership positions simply didn't entrance me — not because of selfless humility. I simply didn't want to bear the burdens of hard work and the responsibilities that come with such jobs. Some folks thrive on pressure; I wither.''

Hammond remained grounded in the life he carved in bush Alaska when he took state office. Former legislator Jay Kerttula, who served with Hammond in the state House, recalled meeting him for the first time at Hammond's Naknek home more than 40 years ago. ''He said, 'Welcome to the home of humble fisherfolk,''' Kerttula said.

After 12 years in the Legislature, six in both the House and the Senate, Hammond retired in 1972 and returned home to Naknek to resume life as a fishermen.

That retirement lasted only two years. In 1974, Hammond defeated former governors Walter Hickel and Keith Miller in the Republican primary and upset three-term Gov. William Egan in the general election by just 220 votes.

He campaigned as a proponent of ''healthy growth'' but quickly picked up the derisive nickname ''Zero-Growth Hammond'' for his opposition to a variety of controversial proposals favored by pro-development forces.

Jack Coghill, who was a representative while Hammond was Senate president, said he and Hammond often crossed swords over development in the state.

''We exchanged several brief jabs at each other over his strong conservation message compared to my development issues,'' Coghill said. ''If you were at odds with his policy, you had to overcome him through other ways, but you would never talk him out of it.''

Coghill called Hammond a great leader and said he respected him for making sure Alaska got its fair share. Coghill said that attitude is missing from the state leaders of today who tiptoe around Washington, D.C.

Hammond opposed the 800-mile route selected for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, oil lease sales in Kachemak Bay and the massive Rampart hydroelectric project. He lost on the pipeline, which was completed during his first term, but he prevailed on the other two.

In 1978, Hammond again faced Hickel in the Republican primary. He won by only 98 votes before racking up a 16,000-vote margin in November.

He said in his autobiography that he ran for the second term to create the permanent fund to keep all the oil wealth generated on the North Slope from being spent by eager politicians. The fund, which pays most Alaskans a much-prized annual dividend, is now worth more than $31 billion.

Even after leaving office, Hammond remained a public figure admired by Alaskans. For several years he hosted a popular television program, ''Jay Hammond's Alaska.'' He stayed in touch with what was happening around the state and rarely hesitated to weigh in on issues in the news.

Hickel said Tuesday that Hammond knew how to communicate with Alaskans, which helped establish him as a champion of rural Alaska.

''He always expressed his opinion and I had a lot of respect for him because he spoke what he truly believed,'' Hickel said.

Gov. Murkowski in a news conference Tuesday said Alaska has lost a giant who believed in the traditions of the state. He said he valued the friendship and opinions of Hammond, who epitomized ''that group that lives on that rugged frontier.''

Hammond is survived by his wife Bella and three children. Murkowski said the family plans a private burial service today and a memorial is planned for a later date.

''I think he left us a sense of what Alaska is all about,'' Kerttula said. ''He was a great man.''

Associated Press writer Dan Joling and Clarion reporters Matt Tunseth and Mark Quiner contributed to this story.

Subscribe to Peninsula Clarion

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved. | Contact Us