Former Alaska legislator and North Pole representative Jeannette James has died at age 91 in Oregon.
James was elected as a member of the Alaska House of Representatives in 1998 and served there for 10 years.
“My grandma was the most hardworking person I’ve ever known. She never stopped and worked seven days a week,” James’ granddaughter, Rebecca Stewart, said. “She was an incredibly resilient woman, always focused on things that were positive and productive.”
James authored and passed several pieces of legislation, including concealed handgun permits, landlord tenant reform and regulation reform. She also worked on the Fairbanks-Nome Railroad corridor and the Alaska Public Building Fund.
“She was very proud of the things she was doing in the community,” Stewart said. “Especially passing the concealed weapon law — she saw that one as a real long shot. She was also proud of the work on the rail line and, in general, having a larger voice representing her North Pole community.”
To honor James’ life and contributions, Gov. Mike Dunleavy said on Friday he will order the Alaska state flag to be flown at half-staff on a date James’ family will choose.
“Everyone who had the opportunity to meet Jeanette knew that she always treated everybody with respect and fairness,” Dunleavy wrote in a prepared statement. “She grew up on a farm in Iowa where she learned the value of hard work and honesty, which laid the groundwork for her career in the Legislature.”
James moved to Alaska in 1972 with her late husband, looking for a chance to build an independent life together. They lived in Alaska for 26 years, raising three children and taking care of “at least 25 foster kids,” Stewart said.
“My grandparents’ love for each other was like a physical object — you could feel it when they were in the room together,” Stewart said.
Stewart said that for some time, James lived in a logging camp with her husband, ”In a tent! And she still spoke about it so fondly!,” Stewart said. “That just shows how she always focused on things that were working well.”
In Anchorage, James studied accounting, which helped her start her own accounting firm later on. She was also a member of various Alaska business associations and served as chair of the House State Affairs Committee, House majority leader, and vice chair and treasurer for the Republican Party, District 18.
Stewart said that James saw value not only in her political career but also in leading her own small business, raising a family and following her various passions — such as trying herself in sled dog racing — before moving on to the next adventure
“She was a very proud woman,” Stewart said. “And she reinvented herself constantly.”