Conventional Bean Counter
"I think my role in the constitutional convention, is I was the keeper of the key to the safety deposit box."
John B. "Jack" Coghill proudly describes himself as the "bean counter" of the historic Alaska Constitutional Convention.

"I think my role in the constitutional convention, is I was the keeper of the key to the safety deposit box," he said.

Born in Fairbanks in 1925, Coghill, 82, said growing up the son of a merchant in rural Alaska during the territorial days taught him the value of a dollar. Convention president Bill Egan asked Coghill - the second youngest delegate elected - to be the chairman of the administration committee in 1955 in order to keep a watchful eye on the convention finances.

"He said, 'I want to make sure you save enough money so we can publicize the proceedings of the convention and the text of the convention so that everybody can understand what it really says and what it really means,'" Coghill recalled of a conversation with Egan.

During the 75 days of the convention, Coghill said he remained mindful of the limited resources the 55 delegates had access to for such a monumental undertaking.

"Out of the $385,000 I was able to give the statehood committee $35,000 of that back from our convention to use as money to get the convention ratified by the people of Alaska," he said.

Coghill said being elected as a delegate to the convention and helping create the Alaska Constitution remains the highlight of a political career that has spanned six decades.

"We formed what we called the '55 Club,'" he said. "In 1955, 55 people met for 75 days and wrote the state constitution. And in 1956 it was ratified on a 2-to-1 basis by the people of the state of Alaska."

Coghill said he became interested in politics at an early age growing up in Nenana in Interior Alaska. He said he learned early in life that Alaskan citizens didn't have the same freedoms and rights as the residents of the Lower 48, and he thought that should change.

"It was a dream. I wasn't a starry-eyed advocate of statehood," Coghill said. "I was a starry-eyed advocate that we needed to have more freedom under the United States Constitution."

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Looking back: John B. "Jack Coghill" talks recently about his role in the Alaska Constitutional Convention.

Courtesy of UAF

Important role: This portrait of Jack Coghill was taken when he served as a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention in 1955.