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Former Alaska Permanent Fund director dies

The former director of the $54 billion Alaska Permanent Fund Corp., Mike Burns, has died after retiring last month due to health concerns, according to a statement from the governor's office. He was 68.

"It is with a heavy heart that I deliver my most sincere condolences to the family of Mike Burns," said Gov. Bill Walker.

"Mike led the Corporation to achieve unprecedented growth during a time of great economic difficultly," Walker said. "I can say without a doubt that every Alaskan owes him a debt of gratitude, and that his leadership will be missed by many."

Burns died Thursday morning in Juneau. Burns had asked that his health issues be kept private, and staff would not say what led to his recent resignation.

The former chief executive of the fund, known best for the annual dividends it pays out to most Alaskans, resigned June 1.

Previously the president of KeyBank, National Association (Alaska), Burns became executive director of the corporation that oversees the fund in 2004, when it totaled $26 billion.

Burns oversaw the fund as its value rose to $40 billion, then slid back to $26 billion in 2009 after the economy crashed. Its value has jumped again in recent years, propelled largely by a booming stock market.

Valerie Mertz, chief financial officer of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corp. who currently serves as its temporary executive director, said Burns' wife called the office Thursday to tell them of his death. A staff meeting soon followed.

"He was a strong leader for us and always calm and patient and stayed the course even in times that were difficult," Mertz said. "But more importantly, we all considered him a friend. So we're missing him today, for sure, and will for a long, long time."

Burns helped push the corporation in new directions aimed at diversifying assets. For example, in recent years, it has begun to directly invest in private venture operations and has started investing in infrastructure around the world, including in airports, ports and wind farms that provide reliable returns.

"He was always mindful of our mission to invest the fund in a prudent way," Mertz said. "He took the portfolio in directions it hasn't gone before."

Burns served three terms as chair of the University of Alaska Board of Regents and was a member of the University of Alaska Foundation Board of Trustees.

The governor's release said an Alaska flag will be flown over the Capitol in Burns' honor and presented to his family.

The board of the state agency has taken steps to find a replacement and issued a recruitment bulletin on the corporation's website on Wednesday. The board hopes to have a new director in place before the legislative session begins in January.

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