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Friends, family say Wally Hickel leaves behind enduring legacy

May 09, 2010
  • Jack Hickel, the fourth of Wally Hickel's six sons, says Hickel was an amazing human being with a heart for life and a heart for service. (Bill Costello/KTUU-DT)
Jack Hickel, the fourth of Wally Hickel's six sons, says Hickel was an amazing human being with a heart for life and a heart for service. (Bill Costello/KTUU-DT)

by Christine Kim
Saturday, May 8, 2010

ANCHORAGE, Alaska -- Alaska may remember former Gov. Wally Hickel, who passed away late Friday at age 90, for his storied past and his successes in state politics -- but his family and close friends remember him as a father, husband and friend with a quick wit and a love for people.

Hickel's family and friends say his life ended too soon, but they say his courage, his love and the legacy he leaves behind will be remembered for many more years to come.

Last August, sitting behind his desk at the Hotel Captain Cook, Hickel shared his life journey with Channel 2's Rhonda McBride -- and a wish for his 90th birthday.

"You can't wish for 10 more -- you wish for the next one," Hickel said.

He was short just a few months, but his legacy will carry on much longer into the future. Hickel leaves behind his wife Ermalee, six sons and 21 grandchildren.


Jack Hickel, the fourth of Hickel's sons, says he'll always remember his father's big heart.

"I really believe he was an amazing human being -- he was a great individual with a heart for life, with a heart for service," Jack Hickel said.

Working to help others was a vision that Jack soon shared with his dad. But it wasn't just the former governor's family that saw his passion for helping others.

"I lived and worked in Africa for 15 years," Jack Hickel said. "That idea of using the resources to benefit people really is, as he often said, it is a way to end poverty."

Wally Hickel's longtime assistant, Malcolm Roberts, remembers his unique sense of perspective on the Arctic.

"This is the way he liked to look at the world, and he did every day," Roberts said, standing beside Hickel's framed map of the Northern Hemisphere.

Roberts was at Hickel's side for almost 40 years as he fought for his ideas.

"And that was true in our statehood battle, it was true in our issues of dealing with what we do with our natural gas -- who benefits from our oil and our other developments in Alaska," Roberts said. "He was always ready to fight."

Hickel's remarkable courage and his love for Alaska are reflected in his list of accomplishments.

"I think that that legacy is not only going to be well entrenched in the lives of people here, this generation and the next generation, but I think it has a great opportunity to becoming entrenched in the lives of other peoples in other countries. That's where his vision and legacy, that's where they will ultimately be felt," Jack Hickel said.

The décor in the late statesman's office says a lot about him: a globe of the world, an American flag -- and a picture of Alaska hanging on the wall. He's no longer there to sit behind his desk, but his loved ones know: he left behind a legacy that won't leave it empty.

Contact Christine Kim at Articles