In early October, Anchorage lost a great humanitarian and selfless advocate for justice and equality. Hugh Fleischer was a great example of a life well-lived and I was privileged to work alongside him for many years at the Alaska Public Interest Research Group (AkPIRG).
AkPIRG was just one of many organizations that Hugh supported through his hard-work and steadfast caring. He was a founding board member of AkPIRG and remained on the board, serving terms as president, for all of AkPIRG's 40 years in Alaska. In addition, Hugh was a founder of Alaskans Against the Death Penalty and on the boards of the Friends of the Library, Planned Parenthood, Out North, Alaska's Independent Blind, Cyrano's Theater, and the Board of Trustees for the Senior Activities Center.
Hugh was a compassionate lawyer who represented the disadvantaged and powerless, assuring they received the equal treatment the law guarantees. But he also had a big-heart for the small acts of making this world a better place. I remember when hurrying to yet another meeting downtown, I would see Hugh having lunch at the Sandwich Deck with his Compeer friend. Compeer is a program that matches adults with mentally challenged people for activities and friendship and Hugh, a busy lawyer, took the same man to lunch, almost every Friday, for more than ten years.
He always had time for a kind word or some wise advice that would keep me and often the organization going.
And he was humble. I knew Hugh for many years before he casually mentioned that he had spent time with Martin Luther King Jr. He had just recorded a radio show around MLK Jr. day and we had some time to chat before a board meeting. When he mentioned it, I was speechless, as though Hugh had just stepped out of the pages of history. But for Hugh, it was part of his hard-working life and now it was time to roll up his sleeves and tackle the next issue that would make Alaska and the world better.
Former AkPIRG Director Steve Conn had this to say about Hugh: "Hugh's good cheer and steady hand equaled that of Ralph Nader's through good times and bad. I did not know of his personal heroism during the civil rights era until I attended a University panel session long after my retirement from AkPIRG. But, given my own regular support and counsel from Hugh, I must say it did not surprise me. Hugh made Alaska a better place for us all."
I wish I had a nickel for every thank you note I wrote Hugh in my years at AkPIRG. It would add up to a lot, but his financial generosity to AkPIRG and all the organizations he helped support was only a small part of the gifts he shared. I often think that there is something special about Hugh's generation, particularly when I think about the great achievements of Hugh's wife Lanie as well.
Hugh's hard work and dedication leave a big hole to fill. It is a good challenge for all of us: to care - in big ways and small ways - to care about our community every day. That's what Hugh did and I am honored to have known him.
Steve Cleary served as executive director of AkPIRG from 2003-2008.