FAIRBANKS — More than two hundred people gathered at the Fine Arts Complex on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus on Saturday to celebrate the life of legendary professor and theater director Lee Harvey Salisbury.

The memorial service — which was held in the theater that bears Salisbury’s name and in which he directed numerous plays — was filled with song, humorous anecdotes, laughter and even a comedic scene performance, a fitting tribute to a man who dedicated his life to the theater.

Salisbury launched the drama program at UAF in the late 1950s and helped establish KUAC public radio while serving as a commissioner of the Alaska Broadcast Commission. 

Salisbury taught speech and radio and directed or acted in more than 100 plays during his tenure at UAF. Salisbury was instrumental in getting the theater built in the late 1960s, and it was renamed the Lee H. Salisbury Theater in his honor in 1993.  

Speakers and performers took turns on the stage during the more-than-two-hour memorial service. Eulogist Merritt Helfferich took the podium in costume and introduced himself as an “old trapper.” After a humorous monologue he spoke about how Salisbury was a “supportive and kind” director that gave his actors positive affirmation even when they had flubbed a scene or a song.

Musicians Nick Bosek, Yonnie Fischer and Willie Blackburn followed with a performance of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Bosek said Salisbury often came to see him perform at a Fairbanks bar in the 1980s and would always “throw a five in the tip jar” and request the song.

Bosek said he knew Salisbury most of his life and described him as “funny, witty, provocative, outrageous and a master raconteur.” 

State Rep. Adam Wool said he didn’t remember exactly when he met Salisbury but once he did it seemed like he “knew him well, all of a sudden.” He described Salisbury as a man who would always tell him a new joke whenever he ran into him.

“I’d try to repeat that joke throughout the rest of the day, if it was appropriate,” Wool said, eliciting knowing laughter from the attendees..

Wool presented a commendation honoring Salisbury on behalf of the Alaska Legislature.

Salisbury’s long-time friend Ronan Short drew more laughter from attendees when he joked about Salisbury’s middle name.

“Harvey? Are you kidding me?” Short said. “I’ve known Lee for 50 years and I never knew his name was Harvey!”

Short described Salisbury as “an equal opportunity iconoclast” who loved to tell “clean jokes, dirty jokes, religious jokes.” Short proceeded to tell several of them, much to the delight of the attendees. 

Short said Salisbury helped start the Fairbanks branch of the Unitarian Church and “loved the humor and jokes that surrounded the liberal, non-dogmatic precepts” observed there.

Speaker Paul Quist described Salisbury as one his family’s “oldest and dearest friends” and said he was a “good man who was just fun to be with.” Marty Decker said Salisbury was “bigger than life” and had a “phenomenal, warm heart.” Dr. Carl Benson described Salisbury as “always an optimist” who loved politics and the play “Harvey.” 

Dr. Rudy Krejci said Salisbury was a close and trusted friend and longtime colleague.

“So long, Lee. We will meet again soon,” Krejci said.

Salisbury’s daughter Kate Egowa, who was born in Wainwright, said she was a young girl still “clinging on to the culture that I knew” when she came to live with the Salisbury family while in grade school. 

“Living with this family helped me to understand the world into which I was entering, and for that I am extremely grateful,” Egowa said.

Steve Mitchell sang “Have Some Madeira, My Dear” and performed a scene from the comedy “The Foreigner” with Nick Nappo. Bill Wright sang “Try to Remember,” Gianna Drogheo and Sarah Mitchell sang “Soon it’s Going to Rain” and “Somewhere,” Jesse Bartlett and Sarah Mitchell sang “A Life that’s Good” and Grace Salisbury sang “Created.”

After the service attendees lined up to tell their own personal stories about Salisbury. A reception was held immediately afterward. 

Contact staff writer Dorothy Chomicz at 459-7582. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMcrime. 

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