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Remembering Congressman Don Young

by Sean Parnell, UAA Chancellor  |   

Dear UAA Community,

On Friday, I had the sad duty of informing 4,100 Alaskans gathered at the Alaska Airlines Center for the state 1A and 2A high school basketball semifinals that Congressman Don Young had passed away unexpectedly. After honoring his life of public service, we observed a moment of silence. Those gathered showed their appreciation through a standing ovation.

With 58 years of service in elected public office — 49 years as Congressman for all of Alaska and nine years in local and state elected offices — Don Young truly fought for Alaskans most of his working life. There was no stopping, no retirement, no taking it easy for Don. He advocated for Alaskans in the U.S. House of Representatives until the very end. Indeed, I spoke with a member of Congress from another state following Don’s passing who said he had asked for her support of Alaska-related legislation a day or two before he passed.

If you have driven the roads and highways in Alaska, flew the skies, landed at our urban and rural airports, or taken an Alaska State Ferry, you have benefited from Congressman Young’s work. Specific to the university, UA President Pitney wrote this weekend that Congressman Young recently helped secure CARES Act funding for higher ed and assisted in funding research and infrastructure in our university system.

For me, Don’s passing is personal. I wasn’t always in a place where I could call him a friend. I campaigned to unseat him in Congress in 2008 and lost in the primary election by 304 votes. Following my defeat, the Congressman and I reconciled and I valued visiting him when I traveled to Washington, DC, whether as Governor of Alaska or later, after returning to practice as an attorney. Through our growing friendship in the last decade, I came to learn that caricatures of our political leaders — the impressions we have of them — are usually only partly true, and, frankly, can sometimes be far afield of the truth. Listening and dialogue create room for greater understanding and appreciation for our leaders as people. This was my experience with Don Young.

I appreciate and honor Don for always fighting for Alaska. I am thankful I came to understand that beneath his gruff exterior, he had a soft heart. I extend my condolences and support to Anne, Dawn and Joni, as well as to all of Don’s family, friends, staff and colleagues. My hope is that Don’s life of public service and his love of his state can be a guiding light for many Alaskans to come. So long, for now, my friend.

With Green & Gold gratitude,
Sean Parnell
UAA Chancellor

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