Alaskans are saying goodbye this week to two political and community players who had major roles in the state's history. Longtime legislator and lobbyist Al Adams died at 70 after a long illness. Adams was a force in the Alaska Legislature for 20 years, an advocate for meeting rural and Native needs and a quiet, intelligent lawmaker who had the respect and affection of his colleagues.
One year, when he was feeling on the outs in the state Senate, he commented that he could be ignored for most of the session. But before it's over, he said, they'll need me.
Adams, once a Senate Finance Committee chairman, knew how the system worked and how the game was played. He also showed some other lawmakers how it was done, and tempered a sometimes tough process with a sense of humor.
Dr. Mike Beirne died at 86, and his death brought back for many longtime Alaskans the battle over the Beirne Initiative, his drive to get land into the hands of Alaskans in the '70s and early '80s. Beirne won at the polls, lost in court, but then won at least a partial victory in the Legislature when more land, from remote sites to subdivision plots, became available to Alaskans -- though on a far smaller scale than he envisioned.
The politician was also a doctor, and in that profession he made arguably greater contributions to Alaska -- starting the blood bank, founding the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center, developing medical facilities that became part of the U-Med district.
Land was his passion in politics, however, and he remained frustrated well into old age by the state's failure to put about 30 million acres in individual Alaskans' hands.
Adams and Beirne came from very different backgrounds, but both made their marks on a young state. Their passing is, among other things, a reminder of old battles and the Alaskans who fought them. As we give our condolences to their families and friends, we remember both the men and the history they made.
BOTTOM LINE: Alaska loses two more old leaders who made their marks in more ways than one.