I recently had the privilege of hanging out with former Alaska state senator and constitutional framer Vic Fischer. When people learn that he’s about to turn 99, he’s often asked, “What’s your secret to a happy life?” Without hesitation, Vic answers, “Love, family and a sense of purpose.” Then he adds, “But there are few more insights I can share. If you look in the introduction of my 2012 autobiography, “To Russia with Love, An Alaskan’s Journey,” you will find the values that have shaped my life.” After rereading this introduction, I asked him if I could rewrite this in a format suitable for a column. “Go for it,” he replied immediately.
Sixty-seven years ago, when Vic Fischer was only 31, he participated in the drafting and signing of the Alaska Constitution. Now, after a full and vibrant career in Alaska’s economic and political affairs, Vic is filled with retrospective wisdom. He also has unique insights from his time growing up in the shadow of Adolph Hitler and Joseph Stalin, watching his friends’ parents disappear after political arrests.
In keeping with the auspicious occasion of him turning 99 on May 5, here are nine insights — one for each decade, plus one to grow on.
1. Respect everyone’s individual rights.
2. Abhor the State’s power to kill its citizens.
3. Oppose all forms of insidious discrimination due to race, gender and sexual orientation.
4. Dedicate time and effort to those without power – the poor, the underdog.
5. Demonstrate fairness and equality in all your endeavors.
6. Find, evolve, and strengthen your humanistic values. Then live by them.
As a kid, Vic saw the ennobling hope and common cause of those who believed communism could serve all of humanity and defeat fascism. His parents were among those believers. And he saw their dreams for the new Soviet Union become the nightmare of Stalin’s repressive police state. As an American, he lived the miracle of freedom and opportunity; feeling the positive power of democracy in ordinary people’s hands. Therefore, he advises:
7. Do not take democracy for granted. Stand up against any and all authoritarian leanings.
8. Even though democratic government is not perfect and can be messy, start your engagement with the premise that government is often the path to solutions and not necessarily the problem that others are quick to suggest. Let’s not forget that government is the means by which civil society emerges and flourishes.
Vic was also fortunate to become Anchorage’s first city planner and later serve as a state senator for six years. And although there were plenty of bumps along the way, this he knows with certainty:
9. Public service is a noble profession. If you engage in public policy, seek to float as many boats as you can, regardless of their size. It is possible to do this.
For those of us who’ve come to personally know Vic Fischer, we see that it’s his personality that makes him a full participant in life. But he quickly points out that his sense of obligation to others, as well as the values that define this obligation, came from the formative people and events of his life. As he says in his book, “What I am, and whatever I may have achieved, is the collective product of my parents and family, of my friends, classmates and teachers, of all the people I have worked with and known. I am the product of all the opportunities I’ve had and of the world around me. I see how any single person can reflect all this input and then help shape our common future.”
As a longtime Alaskan, Vic Fischer is among those who have traveled farthest in space and time toward the better, more just society our state embodies, and which our constitution assures. And as such, here is the tenth insight that he shared with me.
10. Alaska’s future is only bright if we all do our part. Whether through business, academia, trades, public service or nonprofit work, together we can make Alaska not only the Last Frontier but the Best Frontier. This I believe from the bottom of my heart.
In honor of Vic Fischer turning 99, I will continue to do my part in making Alaska the Best Frontier, and I hope you will too.
Kate Troll, a longtime Alaskan, has more than 22 years experience in coastal management, fisheries and energy policy and is a former executive director for United Fishermen of Alaska and the Alaska Conservation Voters. She’s been elected to local office twice, written two books and resides in Douglas.
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