President of Doyon Ltd. dies at 53

Hundreds gather to pay respects to Rosemarie Maher

Posted: Sunday, July 08, 2001

FAIRBANKS -- Rosemarie Maher, the president and chief executive officer of Doyon Ltd., died Friday night in Fairbanks.

She was 53.

Maher had served on the board of the Interior's Alaska Native corporation from 1979 until she was named president in January 2000. She replaced Morris Thompson who retired from Doyon in December 1999. Doyon has 14,000 shareholders and assets of approximately $256 million.

Maher had suffered a heart attack on July 4 and fell into a coma. About 400 people had gathered at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital to pay their respects late Friday when it became apparent that she would not recover.

She leaves behind husband Terry Maher of Fairbanks; four children, Melinda Holmes, Warren Westfall, Kerry Rose Maher and Kevin Maher; and five grandchildren.

Maher is remembered as a woman who could move easily between the corporate world and village life.

"It was really a fish-camp-to-boardroom story," her husband, Terry, told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

Maher was born in a canvas tent at a fish camp on the Nabesna River in 1947. She grew up in Northway and learned all the traditions of the Upper Tanana Athabascan, her family said.

Maher liked to go home to Northway as often as possible and would go to fish camp every summer, her husband said. Her favorite village activity was gathering with her Northway women friends in homemade wooden steam bath houses.

Maher was a member of the teamsters Union and, until assuming the position of president at Doyon, worked during the summer in road construction and hazardous waste cleanup since 1992.

She had serve as co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives from 1997-2000. She served on the Alaska Board of Game during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Maher also served on Gov. Tony Knowles Highway and Natural Gas Policy Council.

Maher earned the respect of other Alaska Native leaders.

"Her visions for her people were strong," said Oliver Leavitt, chairman of the board for Barrow-based Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and high school classmate at Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka.

"I think we all share in a great loss of a great Alaska Native woman," Leavitt said. "She had in her heart her own people first, even before her own family, because she cared for them deeply."

Maher had said she wanted Doyon to be profitable and made finding jobs for shareholders a priority.

A guiding influence in Maher's life was her great-uncle Walter Northway. Northway was the chief of her village and well-known throughout the region. Northway, who anticipated changes to the Athabascan way of life, encouraged Maher to become the chief of Northway Village Council during the early 1970s and to take on other nontraditional roles.

Maher's death is the second loss Doyon shareholders have had to face in a year and a half. Thompson had agreed to work as a special consultant for Doyon, but was killed, along with his wife and daughter, in the Jan. 31, 2000, Alaska Airlines crash of Flight 261 off the coast of California.

Steve Ginnis, president of Tanana Chiefs Conference, said he enjoyed a good working relationship Maher and said the loss would be difficult for shareholders.

"It's really an untimely death," Ginnis said Friday. "Who knows what she would have been able to accomplish."

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Monday, July 9 at the Chena River Convention Center with a reception to follow. A traditional potlatch will begin in Northway on Thursday, July 12, with the funeral service to be held Saturday, July 14.

Doyon officials said those traveling to Northway for the funeral should take camping gear, as space in the village is limited.

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