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FAIRBANKS — The leader that brought billions of dollars and thousands of jobs and improvements to Alaska and helped define Fairbanks as a military and research stronghold was described first and foremost Tuesday as a gentleman.
“Ted Stevens was a gentleman, a scholar, and he had an innate ability to put people at ease,” said Janet Halvarson, who ran Stevens’ Fairbanks office in the 1990s. “He listened to people, and with his busy schedule I never could understand how he could get so many conversations in.”
Fairbanks owes much of its economic, social and academic well-being to Stevens, said politicians and staff who worked closely with him.
“Whether it was new houses for the Strykers or the aviation brigade or rebuilding the new chapel or new housing at (Fort) Wainwright, the man understood the importance of the military not just to our country but to our local economy here,” said Diane Hutchison, who ran Stevens’ Fairbanks office from 2004 to 2009.
“He fought hard when Fort Greely was put on the (Base Realignment and Closure Commission) list to bring the missile defense system up here. He fought extremely hard when Eielson (Air Force Base) was put on the BRAC list to keep it from getting closed,” she said.
Stevens never missed the annual military appreciation banquet hosted by the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, she said.
He also brought major research dollars to the University of Alaska, translating into jobs, population growth, prestige and economic development.
“The research capability of the university would not be what it is were it not for him,” said Jim Whitaker, who worked with Stevens while in the state Legislature and while serving as mayor of the Fairbanks North Star Borough.
Stevens was known for being strong-willed and full of conviction, but he still maintained an open mind, Whitaker said.
“He was always willing to listen and in the end accommodate,” Whitaker said.
Stevens didn’t judge others based on their actions or party affiliation, said Rhonda Boyles, also a former borough mayor.
“Even if he disapproved of an individual’s actions, he was never discouraging about the person. He was always understanding and compassionate,” she said.
He also supported local projects like the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center and energy research at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
“He was extremely interested in methane gas research. He just really felt this might be something that would help the villages to become self-sustaining with energy because there’s methane gas all over the Arctic,” Hutchison said.
Stevens’ loyalty to Alaska was indisputable.
“His most important aspect was he tried to make things work for Alaska, and it was a huge state to take care of,” Halvarson said.
He lives on in Alaska and in Fairbanks in his friends, supporters and accomplishments.
“We all knew someday we’d lose him,” Boyles said. “My real thought is that he was God’s greatest gift to Alaska.”
Contact staff writer Molly Rettig at 459-7590.