Alaska legislator, homestead activist, clinic founder dies

Mike Dunham

Former Alaska legislator Dr. Michael F. Beirne died at his home in Cathedral City, Calif., on July 30. He was 86.

Beirne was a major figure on the state's political and medical scene from the years leading up to statehood through the 1980s. He served in the Alaska House of Representatives, spearheaded a move to allow Alaskans to claim state land and founded a number of important health facilities in Anchorage.

He was born to a farming family on Nov. 22, 1925, in Towanda, Penn. He attended the University of Scranton and received his medical degree from St. Louis University in 1951. He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and was honorably discharged in 1957.

That year he moved to Anchorage with his family and became active in the movement to make Alaska a state. He served one term in the Legislature after being elected in 1967, then another when he was appointed to the seat vacated by Anchorage Rep. Tom Fink in 1975. He was re-elected to that seat and served until 1981. In 1986 he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor on the Republican ticket.

He was best known as a leading proponent of a state homesteading program and the main sponsor of a 1978 voter initiative that would have given Alaskans the right to claim up to 180 acres of state land. The Beirne homestead initiative passed handily but was ruled unconstitutional by the Alaska Supreme Court.

As a doctor, he worked to recruit medical personnel to the state and to establish medical facilities. He was a developer of the Medical Arts Building, Northern Lights Clinic and the Lake Otis Building in what is now known as the "U-Med" district of Anchorage. He established the first Blood Bank of Alaska and was its director for 15 years. He owned or directed several laboratories in Anchorage and Fairbanks, including those at Providence Alaska, Anchorage Community and Fairbanks hospitals. He was the founder and director of the Anchorage Neighborhood Health Center.

He served five years on the Anchorage Municipal Health Commission and was the Alaska state medical examiner in forensic pathology for many years. In fact, he was the only pathologist in Alaska and flew to many villages in his own plane to conduct investigations.

Beirne was preceded in death by his wife, Corinne (Roe), who died in 1992. He is survived by their seven children, numerous grandchildren and his longtime partner Margie St. Anthony.

Anchorage Daily News