Mourners paid tribute Monday to former Alaska governor and Nixon Cabinet member Wally Hickel nine days after he died of natural causes at age 90.
More than 700 people filled Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in Anchorage for the funeral Mass. Burial was scheduled today.
Among those in attendance were four former Alaska governors -- Sarah Palin, Frank Murkowski, Tony Knowles and Bill Sheffield -- as well as U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Mark Begich, U.S. Rep. Don Young and Gov. Sean Parnell. Also attending was former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.
Signs resembling the Alaska state flag, with a blue field and the Big Dipper and North Star in gold, lined the streets leading to the church. The signs read, "Thank you Governor Hickel." The service was broadcast statewide by an Anchorage television station.
Longtime friend Max Hodel recalled conversations and musings with Hickel during long walks. Hickel once joked that when he went to heaven, if he saw things in Alaska weren't to his liking, he planned to ask "Saint Peter to send me back to run for a third term."
Hodel also recalled another time Hickel said: "When I die, I want to be buried standing up, so when I get to heaven, I can come out fighting."
Hickel's son Jack said he discovered at an early age that his father had an extraordinary amount of wisdom.
"He seemed to have an innate sense of the proper path to take," Jack Hickel said.
"Alaska has lost a great leader," he said. "The world has lost a great mind."
MAN OF PASSIONS
Former Archbishop of Anchorage Francis Hurley noted in his homily Hickel's abiding Catholic faith and his equally passionate devotion to his fellow humans.
"He was a developer, a governor and an involved citizen," he said. "That sensitivity spawned the concept of the owner-state, the state belonging to the people. This was one of his deep convictions."
Hurley recalled Hickel's close involvement in the planning for Pope John Paul II's 1981 visit to Anchorage. Local Catholic leaders had just five weeks to prepare, and Hurley worried that wasn't enough time, so he approached Hickel for advice, introducing the subject by telling him a friend wanted to visit.
By then Hickel had built a hotel in town, and he asked, "Does he need a hotel room?" Hurley recalled as the audience laughed.
Hickel's daughter-in-law, Josie Hickel, said before the service that the outpouring of support has been tremendous, ranging from old friends to complete strangers.
"People are paying their respects for Wally, for his many, many years of service to Alaska," she said.
Hickel, who died May 8, was Alaska's governor twice. The first time, he ran as a Republican, defeating two-term Democratic Gov. William Egan in 1966. Hickel had never held elected office before that.
Hickel resigned in 1969 to take a job as interior secretary for President Richard Nixon. He was fired in late 1970, several months after he wrote Nixon a letter critical of the president's handling of student protests after the National Guard shootings at Kent State University and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.
During his brief tenure in the Nixon administration, Hickel imposed strict cleanup rules on oil companies and water polluters after an oil rig explosion off the California coast. He also pushed to save the Everglades from destruction by development and promoted the idea of Earth Day as a national holiday.
His political career began in the early 1950s as a crusader for Alaska statehood, both in the territory and in Washington, D.C. He also was involved in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, which helped pave the way for the trans-Alaska oil pipeline.
Born in Claflin, Kan., he arrived almost penniless in the small city of Anchorage in 1940. He took advantage of the city's rapid growth after World War II to build a multimillion-dollar construction and real-estate fortune.
In 1990, Hickel won his second tour as governor, this round as a member of the Alaskan Independence Party. By that time, he was 71 and had waged several unsuccessful gubernatorial bids.
His four-year term was marked by frequent clashes with state lawmakers put off by his sometimes autocratic style and with environmentalists critical of his unabashed support for natural resource development.
He chose not to seek re-election in 1994 and returned to Anchorage to run his business. He also served as head of the Northern Forum, an international group addressing polar issues.
Hickel was an early supporter of Sarah Palin during her successful gubernatorial campaign in 2006. That support waned after she became Republican John McCain's running mate in the 2008 presidential race.
Hickel said in a guest column in the Anchorage Daily News last year that Palin "became the spokesperson for the divisive voices in American politics." He later fell out with Palin.
Palin attended Monday's Mass with her youngest daughter, Piper.
"Our state has lost a great leader," Palin said. "What he has left behind will have changed all of our lives, and he spoke so often about energy and security, and energy and prosperity and the nation, and we must not forget that."
Hickel is survived by his wife of 65 years, Ermalee; six sons, 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.