Framer of Alaska's constitution

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2008

Those who knew Judge Thomas Stewart describe him as an avid outdoorsman, decorated veteran, devoted family man, savvy politician, respected judge and champion of the arts.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

"Aside from everything else - great judge, great lawyer, framer of the constitution, war hero, all that stuff - he was just the kind of person that you could spend three or four hours with and it was just completely enjoyable because he was such a nice guy," Alaska Supreme Court Justice Walter "Bud" Carpeneti said.

Stewart died Dec. 12 and a celebration of life will be held for him at 1 p.m. Saturday at Centennial Hall. The service is open to the public.

Born in Seattle on Jan. 1, 1919, Stewart moved with his family to Juneau when he was three weeks old. Childhood friend Dean Williams said Stewart enjoyed spending time in the outdoors.

"We did a lot of crazy things together," Williams said. "We used to climb real steep mountains."

In their 88 years of friendship, Williams said the two spent many hours together in the mountains climbing, hunting and skiing.

"When you do these things like climbing together, you depend on each other for saving each others' lives sometimes," Williams said. "That's a bond that you can't get any other way. It's the strongest bond there is."

Stewart was able to use his outdoor knowledge and experience during his service with the U.S. Army 10th Mountain Division in World War II, during which he earned bronze and silver stars.

On two separate occasions, Carpeneti went to Italy with Stewart to retrace the path the division took into the Alps to help liberate Europe from Nazi occupation.

"Both of them were among the most interesting and rewarding experiences of my life," Carpeneti said.

The favorable impression Stewart and his fellow soldiers left on the Italians was evident more than half a century after liberation, he said.

"We had some amazingly emotional interactions with people who had fought in the same war at the same time at the same place 52 years (before) and some of them remembered the events like they were yesterday," Carpeneti said. "Everywhere we went, especially in the smaller towns, he was just treated like a returning hero, which he was to those people."

After the war was over, Stewart furthered his education at Johns Hopkins and Yale universities before embarking on a legal and political career. After serving as assistant attorney general from 1951 to 1954, Stewart was elected to the Territorial House of Representatives in 1954.

He was a formidable proponent of Alaska statehood while serving in the Territorial Legislature and served as chairman of the Joint House and Senate Committee on Statehood and Federal Relations.

Stewart was the driving force behind setting up the Alaska Constitutional Convention and choosing Fairbanks as the location to ensure a constitution was completed, said economist and longtime friend George Rogers during an interview in February.

"Without Tom's idea there wouldn't have been a constitution," said Rogers, who also served as a consultant during the convention.

Claus-M Naske, professor emeritus of history at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, said Stewart traveled around the county to research and collect information on other states' constitutions prior to the convention. Stewart's role as secretary of the convention helped make the historic event one of the keys to Alaska entering the union as the 49th State, he said.

"He was one of the kingpins in the constitutional convention," Naske said.

Stewart married his wife, Jane, in the same year as the convention and then worked for several years in private practice before Alaska achieved statehood on Jan. 3, 1959. He was then elected as a state senator and served during the first Alaska Legislature.

After two years as a state senator, Stewart then became the administrative director for the Alaska Court System for five years before becoming a Superior Court judge in Juneau in 1966.

Stewart, who also served as a statewide trial judge and settlement judge, was a terrific legal scholar who ran a fair and professional courtroom, Carpeneti said.

"He dealt with very difficult subjects, but you learned when you were in his courtroom that you could disagree without being disagreeable," he said. "People could have different positions and they could present them, and the final result was that it really helped the process of justice."

Carpeneti said Stewart left a lasting legal legacy that resonates in Alaska's judiciary to this day.

"It really is the case that Southeast enjoys just a great reputation for a well-run judicial district, where lawyers do their best to maintain competency and judges run courtrooms in a way that's designed to try and get to the just result," he said. "And I think a lot of that is from his legacy."

Williams said Stewart also left a legacy as a family man and was an outstanding father to the seven children he raised with his wife.

Many people from Juneau and beyond are expected to converge at Centennial Hall on Saturday to pay tribute to the many facets of Stewart's life.

Among the speakers are Williams; Rogers; Katie Hurley, constitutional convention chief clerk; former legislators and convention delegates Vic Fisher and Jack Coghill; present House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau; Judge Vic Carlson; Native leader Byron Mallott; and Susan Burke, president of the Juneau Symphony.

Williams said it will be nearly impossible for him to encapsulate the many aspects of Stewart's life during his allotted time at the memorial service on Saturday.

"That's a real chore to cram 88 years of association with Tom into 4½ minutes," he said laughing. "I'll have a lot of stories that I won't be able to tell. ... He was a one of a kind. You just don't find any Tom Stewarts around the world."

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.  | Contact Us