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Remembering Stan Stephens: Never an adversary, always an advocate

Tom Barrett
Alyeska Pipeline president recalls: Stan Stephens' energy for protecting the unique ecosystem of Prince William Sound was immense. His solid character and capacity for leadership will be greatly missed, but his legacy of stewardship and integrity will endure. Courtesy Stan Stephens family

Alaska lost a true champion this past week with the passing of Stan Stephens of Valdez, a man whose passion for protecting Prince William Sound translated to every aspect of his life, a man I was fortunate to know and call a friend. Stan and I shared a relationship dating back many years, long before I became president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company in 2011. His passing has prompted reflection across the state about his legacy and character. I want to share my thoughts on the life he led, and the legacy of stewardship and integrity he leaves in his wake.

Stan was a practical man and a sailor through and through, a straight-talker and storyteller whose character was defined by strength, patience and practicality. I viewed Stan as an advocate -- never an adversary. Together, we believed positive and practical solutions could be reached. Our rapport dates back to my days as commander of the United States Coast Guard for Alaska, when Stan weighed in on environmental and safety issues. His prowess, acumen and knowledge reflected rich understanding of the unique ecosystem of Prince William Sound, and revealed his innate energy around protecting its waterways and shorelines.

Our paths also crossed with the formation of the Prince William Sound Regional Citizens Advisory Council, an organization whose work is synonymous with Stan himself. He helped create the group and remained devoted for decades, active until he retired from its board of directors in 2012.

Stan had a sweeping impact on our industry. He dedicated thousands of hours to RCAC. A Legislative citation issued in 1995 called him a shining example of how “citizens can constructively influence decisions that affect their lives and communities.” Stan’s passion, hard work, and commitment exemplified how a single person can have a profound impact. In his steady and even way, Stan campaigned for vapor recovery systems for tanker loading berths and championed air quality improvements. He advocated for redundant systems to improve safety on the Terminal, and was a staunch supporter of improvements to oil spill prevention and response readiness.

He shared his connection to the Sound with thousands of strangers, shuttling visitors to some of the Sound’s most pristine, special places. He understood that Valdez’s distinction as the terminus for the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System helped make the town successful, and demanded that a strong level of responsibility and care accompany that success. From our earliest to our final conversations -- talks that took place across the breakfast table at the Totem Inn in Valdez, on decks of boats, and at his hospital bedside -- Stan focused on protecting Prince William Sound. He believed in the compatibility of the missions of RCAC and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, and in the importance of always continuing to improve the relationship between the two.

Stan kept a weather eye on the horizon. He mentored others, in particular a new generation of boat captains and citizen leaders. This exemplified his leadership -- a belief that a captain is only as good as his crew. In our final meeting, just days before he died, Stan expressed high confidence in Amanda Bauer, whom he mentored closely and who is now Chairman of the RCAC, carrying on his legacy.

What I will remember most about our last visit in his office at the Valdez Boat Harbor, the port spread out behind it, the mountains rising up, is that we were reflective together, like sailors standing at the rail on a calm ocean.

Thank you for everything, Stan. Alaska will miss you.

Tom Barrett is president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Company, the consortium responsible for maintaining and operating the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.