Colleagues, voters recollect Hammond

Popular governor is remembered as man who put Alaskans before everything else

Posted: Sunday, August 21, 2005

Local leaders and friends gathered in the University of Alaska Southeast's Egan Lecture Hall on Saturday to join with Alaskans across the state in mourning and in the celebration of former Gov. Jay Hammond's life.

Hammond, 83, died Aug. 2 at his home at Lake Clark, about 185 miles west of Anchorage. He served on the Alaska Legislature for 12 years and as governor from 1975 to 1982. The Republican was known for being a bush pilot, hunting guide, television host, environmentalist and writer.

Former colleagues and constituents from Juneau shared stories and cherished memories prior to the memorial at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts in Anchorage. The gathering was projected on a movie screen at UAS. Those attending in Juneau stood along with the people in Anchorage for Alaska's Flag Song, prayed during the invocation, and could be heard laughing and weeping as Lauren Stanford eloquently eulogized her grandfather.

Hammond's Juneau friends and political allies spoke of him Saturday as a man of great strength with a steadfast dedication to public service.

"He was a politician as a politician should be, not as they often are," said Sally Smith, who served Fairbanks in the State House of Representatives during Hammond's administration. "He was shrewd, he was ahead of the curve, he was a visionary, he believed in responsible development, and he gave us something that will never go away and that is our future."

Former legislator Mike Miller of Juneau spoke of Hammond's spiritual values from his time as a fellow parishioner at the Northern Light Church in Juneau. He said Hammond and his wife, Bella, would sit in the back row to not take attention away from the service. Miller said some still refer to the back row as "Jay Hammond's Row."

"Several times Jay spoke from the pulpit, and let me tell you, scripture never sounded and resounded more than Jay's resonating voice," he said.

Hammond's humor and intellect were recurring themes. People frequently joked about his humility and his sense of Alaska style.

"I would have put a tie on but we know how Gov. Hammond felt about ties," former Commissioner of Education Marshall Lind said.

Judge Thomas Stewart, a Democrat, spoke of Hammond's ability to look beyond partisan politics.

"When I was in the majority and he was in the minority, I had a lot of respect for his abilities," he said.

Stewart recalled the start of a strong friendship when he was asked to lodge the Hammonds while they visited Juneau.

"The last 15 years, whenever he would come to Juneau, he would call me and say, 'Can I stay in your house?'" Stewart said. "I had a comfortable room for him, and I had an extra car he could drive and be independent. And as I say, we were bosom buddies for the last 15 years."

Sen. Kim Elton said Hammond's true legacy was his love of Alaska.

"Gov. Jay Hammond always put Alaska first," he said. "He put Alaska ahead of his political party. He put Alaska ahead of economic special interests. He put Alaska ahead of social special interests. He always put Alaska and Alaskans first."

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