News-Miner opinion: The death of Anchorage Sen. Chris Birch just over a week ago leaves a hole not only in the Legislature but also in the hearts of many, including those in Fairbanks who knew him during his lengthy time living in our part of the state.
Sen. Birch was an Alaska resident since 1959, grew up in mining camps of the Interior, as far north as the Brooks Range. He lived in Fairbanks from 1968 to 1991.
He graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in engineering in 1972 and a master’s degree in engineering management in 1979. He was elected president of the Alaska Society of Professional Engineers at the organization’s Fairbanks meeting in 1991, the year he moved to Anchorage.
During his time in our community he served two terms on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly, from 1984 to 1990, and for a time served as assembly presiding officer.
He served on the board of directors of the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, and was chairman of the Northern Alaska Land Use Advisory Council for the federal Bureau of Land Management.
He worked as a project manager for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities and was eventually appointed manager of Fairbanks International Airport, a position he held for three years before resigning from the politically appointed job in December 1990 following the election of Gov. Walker J. Hickel, though he later challenged his forced resignation in court.
In Fairbanks, then-Assemblyman Birch was fiscally conservative. He worked to reduce the size of the borough budget, including advocating for the school district to reduce its spending. He also had a “generally favorable” position about the unification of the city and borough governments, according to a Daily News-Miner candidate survey published in September 1984.
Sen. Birch’s life was one full of public service and with love of community and state.
The late senator’s legislative colleagues, in statements shortly following his death, described him as warm, genial and easygoing. Senate President Cathy Giessel called him a “good, principled man of character, one who treated everyone with dignity and respect.”
That is what we hope for in our elected leaders. Sen. Birch, a Republican elected to the House in 2016 and the Senate in 2018, represented the institution of the Legislature well.
To Sen. Birch’s family as they cope with his unexpected passing, we say thank you for his service to Alaska, both here in Fairbanks and most recently as a state legislator from Anchorage.
Alaska has lost a well-regarded man.