Mourners pay last respects to Athabascan priest

Posted: Friday, October 04, 2002

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- The Rev. John Starr Jr., an Athabascan elder and Episcopal priest, has died at age 76.

Mourners in Fairbanks paid their last respects to Starr, who was ordained late in life. Starr had spent less than three years shepherding a small flock in the Yukon River village of Tanana, his lifelong home.

He died in Seattle Tuesday after being taken off life support systems.

Family and friends gathered Wednesday at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church to eat traditional foods and remember Starr, who suffered an aneurysm last week. He had been attending Tanana Chiefs Conference meetings in Fairbanks and was flown to Seattle for treatment.

''He was a peace-giver and a peacekeeper for our people in the Interior,'' said Starr's nephew Vernon Joseph. ''The way he lived reflected that. His ideas, his values, his principles revolved around that.''

Episcopal Bishop Mark MacDonald said Starr was always a priest with a ''kind and outstanding presence in the community.''

''I was impressed with him the moment I first talked to him in 1986 or '87,'' MacDonald said. On a later trip along the Yukon, MacDonald, who was not yet a bishop, told Starr, ''If I was bishop, I'd ordain you right away.''

That statement became a reality when MacDonald, bishop of the Alaska Episcopal Diocese, ordained Starr on Feb. 21, 2000, at St. James Episcopal Mission in Tanana.

MacDonald said that many people missed the depth of Starr's wisdom because he was always so humble and unassuming.

Starr's ordination brought his history with the Episcopal church full circle.

Born in 1926 at Cosna River, Starr was raised at the Mission of Our Savior, the old mission in Tanana. As a youngster he lived with a mission priest and his family in order to attend school, according to the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

He served in the church as lay reader for a couple of decades, led Sunday morning prayer, was a deacon, a member of the Tanana Tribal Council and a Tribal Court judge.

''They looked to him to do a lot of things,'' said the Rev. Ginny Doctor.

Starr is survived by his wife, Lois Sanders Starr.

Funeral services are pending in Fairbanks and Tanana.

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