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Vol. 15, No. 35 Week of August 29, 2010
Providing coverage of Alaska and northern Canada's oil and gas industry

In Memory of Sen. Ted Stevens: Ted Stevens: An Alaska mentor

By Dave Harbour

I braved the dusty AlCan Highway in my 1961 Ford station wagon after graduating from Colorado State in 1965. Rooming for a week in Anchorage’s Parsons Hotel, I waved at the Beetles one afternoon in the alley behind the Hilton. That — along with Alaska’s other attractions — hooked me on the place.

Then, after returning from a hitch in Korea, my last assignment at Fort Meade was implementing an Army Speakers program for General Westmoreland throughout the Eastern United States. One day after briefing Westmoreland at the Pentagon I went to the ‘Hill’ for a courtesy call with Sen. Ted Stevens. Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel had only appointed him to the office a year or two earlier and it had not nearly the impressive array of Alaska totems, certificates and fossil ivory that would come to adorn that office in succeeding years.

Warm, gracious, energetic

I do remember him as being warm and gracious — full of excitement and energy as he pointed to and described the far reaches of the great, USGS raised-relief Alaska map covering one entire wall. He was 40-something then and I was 20-something, so he seemed old at the time, being twice my age! He had the perfect age and disposition to be a mentor.

The senator liked that I was an officer doing “God’s work”. When I described my Sports Afield writer-famous Dad, Col. Dave Harbour (USAF-Ret), he liked what they had in common. Dad had been a WWII fighter pilot in New Guinea and Ted had served with the Flying Tigers in support of General Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists. The general died a few years later and I remember Ted expressing deep respect for Madame Chiang Kai-shek in succeeding decades.

I called on him that day in, I think, 1970 to ask for his guidance on Alaska jobs. While he helpfully put me in touch with MG Nick Necrason (Alaska National Guard) and Eric McDowell (State of Alaska’s Division of Tourism) back in Alaska, those opportunities faded, though Nick and Eric had been quite warm and helpful.

‘Uncle Ted’ always in the background

So, I left the Army, obtained a graduate degree and drove up the highway again, this time in 1971 with a wife and two little kids — for my new job with Alaska Methodist University. Later in 1972 — while contracted to Bureau of Indian Affairs director Morris Thompson — I coordinated with Ted on my assignment to implement a highly successful world-wide Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act Enrollment Program. I used Cher Bono, Chief Dan George and Jay Silverheels in my advertisements and radio commercials to attract potential shareholders. I don’t think we missed many, if any.

Everywhere over the years I seemed to remain in contact with Uncle Ted. While government relations director for ARCO, I worked with his future wife, Catherine — a lawyer and government relations advisor. Later, I attended their 1980 wedding reception in the Roundhouse at the top of Alyeska Resort’s Chairlift #1.

One time, at the Tanana Valley Fair in Fairbanks, I “baby sat” little toddler Lily while Ted and Catherine swept the fairgrounds shaking hands. I hosted campaign events for him in my home and dined with him in Washington. I arranged several speech forums for him.

I volunteered for his projects and was always honored to help him host VIP tourists visiting Alaska, including such luminaries as Secretary Cecil Andrus, Jamie and Phyllis Wyeth, Postmaster General Bill Bolger, Gas Pipeline Federal Inspector John Rhett, Bob and Elizabeth Dole and the Senate Energy Committee.

While chairman of the Anchorage Chamber I hosted a community reception at the Captain Cook Hotel where Ted introduced his ‘brother’ veteran, Sen. Dan Inouye of Hawaii to our mutual friends.

Excellent reputation and advice

When I organized a $350k fundraising effort for the Anchorage Organizing Committee at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in 1988, Ted helped with critical introductions. It had to be successful with support from American Express Chairman Jim Robinson, Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, New York’s own Lewis Rudin, Katherine Fanning, Donna de Varona, Simon Estes, Bill Simon, Bud Greenspan, Governor Steve Cowper, Mayor Tom Fink, Kay Linton and dozens of assorted corporate CEOs and Wall Street investment houses. Everyone seemed interested in courting Anchorage, thanks partly to Uncle Ted and his international Olympic reputation.

Supporting the senator’s work on the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, I organized tours to Alaska for outdoor writers and other influence leaders. At Ted’s invitation, my wife, Nancy, and I attended President Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural.

Listen, but don’t repeat

Every single office visit over the years was interrupted by telephone calls. He once said to me, “You can listen but you can never repeat anything you overhear.”

Needless to say, I obey him to this day, privately remembering historical words exchanged between this Senate President Pro Tempore Emeritus and governors, other senators, the vice president, White House chief of staff, Department of Defense Joint Chiefs Chairman, various cabinet members and various foreign leaders.

Part of Ted’s attraction to all of us was the courageous, diligent and loyal staff members who surrounded and protected him. They will all understand why I don’t start listing names here, for to be fair the list would go on for pages and then, in spite of my best effort, eliminate several. Hundreds of employees and interns including my son, Todd, will always carry with them a sense of his fairness, his work ethic, his devotion to the country and Alaska. He mentored many.

I was not one of Ted’s inner circle — simply honored and content to have played a small role in his big life. More important, he played a big role in my smaller life and I wouldn’t have had such an incredibly fulfilling career without his guidance.

I thought about him all the time. I cared for him.

Good-bye Uncle Ted. See you soon.

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