Juneau's Don Dickey brought visitor industry to new level

Former chamber, tourism official used his eloquence to improve the state

When Alaskans look at the state’s booming tourism industry in recent years, some of those in the know are saying that it was Don Dickey who quietly but cheerfully helped that boom come about.

“He was without a doubt the classiest, most gentle and most humorous man I’ve ever known, and he worked so hard to make Alaska the (tourist) destination it has become,” said Karen Jacobsen Hansen, a former owner of Wings of Alaska.

Dickey, in various jobs, first with the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, then the Alaska State Chamber, Juneau Chamber and as director of the Tourism Division for the state of Alaska, worked behind the scenes to take the state’s tourism businesses to new levels.

One of those levels, said Juneau’s Terry Miller, was reaching 1 million visitors to Alaska in a year.

Miller, now visitors’ services coordinator for the Juneau Convention and Visitors Bureau, served as deputy director of the Division of Tourism and watched Dickey in action

“Don was a very dynamic person, a very charming person,” she said.

“He could totally captivate a room and be very persuasive,” she said.

One of the key efforts at the time was persuade those in the Alaska tourism business to join together in a cooperative marketing effort to sell Alaska as a destination, rather than their individual businesses.

“He got the little mom and pop operations, the cruise companies, the airlines, everybody with a stake in it pooled their marketing dollars,” Miller said.

They sold Alaska, and helped bring more people to the state.

Former Lt. Gov. Jack Coghill called Dickey a “great promoter of Alaska.”

“He was the one who probably laid the blueprint down for what happened later,” Coghill said.

“He was one of the real pioneers in the hospitality industry,” said Joe Holbert, former press secretary for Gov. Wally Hickel.

Dickey was a very funny guy, Holbert said, who could inspire and motivate others.

“He was just the kind of guy we needed at that time,” he said.

He had a wonderful way about humor, “but never at somebody else’s expense,” Hansen said.

Dickey “was a tremendous guy, a very funny guy,” said Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau.

Despite being a Republican, Egan said Dickey was a great friend of his parents. Egan’s father, former Gov. Bill Egan, was one of the state’s most prominent Democrats.

“In those days it wasn’t a ‘D’ and ‘R’ thing,” Egan said.

Dickey was also a great promoter of Juneau, and was known statewide, he said.

Dickey liked to say that “when he was born him mom probably kissed the Blarney Stone, and that was just what was needed to promote those things,” Coghill said.

“He had a real vision for Alaska, and he was a pioneer in putting Alaska and the visitor industry on the map,” Holbert said.

One of those efforts was helping open up the Parks Highway to tourism, bringing the industry into the state’s interior.

Even after Dickey retired from public service, he continued to work seasonally for Wings of Alaska for seven years.

In those days, Wings of Alaska’s scenic flights departed from a dock right down by the ships, and Dickey greeted passengers and got them on their flights, Hansen said.

“It was like he was welcoming all those people who he’d invited to Alaska over the years, she said.

Dickey, who came to Alaska in 1952, died June 25 at the Juneau Pioneer Home. He was 89.

• Contact reporter Pat Forgey at 523-2250 or at patrick.forgey@juneauempire.com.

 

 

 

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