Burke Riley, signer of AK constitution, dead at 92

Posted: Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Burke Riley, one of the signers of the Alaska Constitution, died Tuesday in Kirkland, Wash. He was 92.

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Riley was one of the 55 delegates chosen to take part in the constitutional convention that convened in November 1955 at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Voters approved the constitution in April 1956, paving the way for Alaska's statehood three years later.

With Riley's death, just four delegates from that constitutional convention survive: Victor Fisher and Seaborn Buckalew of Anchorage, Jack Coghill of Nenana and George Sundborg of Juneau.

"Now we have lost one more of those true Alaskans who framed the state of Alaska," Coghill said. "He was a very thoughtful guy and a gentleman, regardless of the debate that was taking place."

Riley was born in Swan Lake, Mont., and raised in Yakima, Wash. He moved to Fairbanks in 1937 after he ran out of money while studying law at the University of Washington.

He and a childhood friend persuaded the captain of a supply boat to let them earn their steerage, and they arrived in Fairbanks with just 25 cents between them, according to Riley's brother, Bill Riley.

Burke Riley served in the Army Air Force during World War II as a courier transporting messages and cargo throughout the Pacific theater.

He moved to Juneau after the war and passed the state bar exam. He was appointed as territorial Gov. Ernest Gruening's administrative assistant. He later became secretary of the territory under Gruening, the equivalent of today's lieutenant governor.

After statehood, Riley became the executive assistant to former Gov. William Egan.

Riley also represented Haines in the Legislature for two terms, including a stint as House majority leader.

Working for the federal government, Riley was an attorney for the Bureau of Land Management and a regional coordinator for the Department of the Interior.

Riley suffered from Alzheimer's disease late in life, and he died in a Washington hospice.

He is survived by his wife Susie Harris Riley, ex-wife Doris Ann Bartlett, two sisters, one brother and nine children.

Memorial services will be held in Juneau soon, Bill Riley said.

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