Jay Hammond dies at 83

Leader shaped permanent fund, helped fend off capital relocation

Posted: Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Jay Hammond, a Bush pilot and hunting guide who served two terms as Alaska's governor and helped create the Alaska Permanent Fund, died Tuesday at his Lake Clark home. He was 83.

Hammond was found in bed Tuesday morning by his wife, Bella, in their homestead some 185 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to Alaska State Troopers. He died of natural causes, troopers said.

Hammond, a Republican and a conservationist in a pro-development state, served in the Alaska Legislature for 12 years and was governor from 1975 to 1982.

He oversaw the first flow of oil through the trans-Alaska pipeline in 1977 and was a major advocate of creating the Alaska Permanent Fund as a savings account for the state's oil wealth.

During his time in office, federal land reserves grew vastly, fishery stocks revived, and a broad-based tourism industry was born.

Former Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer, a Democrat who worked for Hammond in another capacity for six years when he was governor, called him an important mentor. He was passionate about the little guy and never shied from discussion or debate over ideas, she said.

"He was an incredibly good governor because he was a good listener and he wanted to do what was right, and not the first thing that came to his head," Ulmer said. "Jay was a very honorable man with high standards of principle and morality."

Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski in a news conference Tuesday said Alaska had lost a giant who believed in the traditions of the state. He said he valued the friendship and opinions of Hammond, who epitomized "that group that lives on that rugged frontier."

Bearded and barrel-chested, Hammond looked every bit the typical rugged Alaskan to the outside world. In the state, his style combined folksy speech and self-deprecating humor.

Former legislator Jay Kerttula, who served with Hammond in the state House, recalled meeting Hammond for the first time at Hammond's Naknek home more than 40 years ago. "He said, 'Welcome to the home of humble fisherfolk,"' Kerttula said.

"I think he left us a sense of what Alaska is all about," Kerttula said. "He was a great man. I'll miss him greatly."

Hammond's sense of humor was on display at one of his last public appearances, a July 6 luncheon put on by the Alaska Conservation Foundation to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, the sweeping 1980 federal law signed by President Jimmy Carter that added more than 100 million acres of Alaska into new or expanded national parks or refuges.

Carter was the featured speaker. Hammond recalled meeting him and speaking about flying.

"When I told him I had a little Cessna 170, he said, 'Don't Alaskans worry about you flying around in an old single-engine aircraft?' I said, 'No. As a matter of fact, many Alaskans encourage me."'

Hammond was born July 21, 1922, in Troy, N.Y. The son of a Methodist minister, he briefly attended Penn State University before enlisting in the Marine Corps during World War II and serving as a fighter pilot in the Pacific theater.

Hammond moved to Alaska in 1946 to work as a pilot. It was the first of many jobs for Hammond - trapper, wildlife biologist, government hunter, hunting guide, commercial fisherman and later, according to his 1994 autobiography, "Tales of Alaska's Bush Rat Governor," a reluctant politician.

"When it came to politics, as in many other of life's activities, I preferred to be a loner," he wrote. "Political power or leadership positions simply didn't entrance me - not because of selfless humility. I simply didn't want to bear the burdens of hard work and the responsibilities that come with such jobs. Some folks thrive on pressure; I wither."

After 12 years in the Legislature, six in the House and six in the Senate, Hammond retired in 1972 and returned home to Naknek to resume life as a fishermen.

That retirement lasted only two years. In 1974, Hammond defeated former governors Walter Hickel and Keith Miller in the Republican primary and upset three-term Gov. William Egan in the general election by just 220 votes.

He campaigned as a proponent of "healthy growth" but quickly picked up the derisive nickname "Zero-Growth Hammond" for his opposition to a variety of controversial proposals favored by pro-development forces.

Hammond opposed the 800-mile route selected for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, oil lease sales in Kachemak Bay and the massive Rampart hydroelectric project. He lost on the pipeline, which was completed during his first term, but he prevailed on the other two.

In 1978, Hammond again faced Hickel in the Republican primary. He won by only 98 votes before racking up a 16,000-vote margin in November.

He said in his autobiography that he ran for the second term to create the permanent fund to keep some of the oil wealth generated on the North Slope from being spent by eager politicians. The fund, which pays most Alaskans a much-prized annual dividend, is now worth more than $31 billion.

Even after leaving office, Hammond remained a public figure much admired by Alaskans. For several years he hosted a popular television program, "Jay Hammond's Alaska." He stayed in touch with what was happening around the state and rarely hesitated to weigh in on issues in the news.

Hickel said Tuesday that Hammond knew how to communicate with Alaskans, which helped establish him as a champion of rural Alaska.

"He always expressed his opinion and I had a lot of respect for him because he spoke what he truly believed," Hickel said.

Hammond is survived by his wife and three children. Murkowski said the family planned a private burial service for today, and a memorial for a later date.

• Associated Press writer Dan Joling contributed to this report.

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