U.S. Rep. Don Young’s life was celebrated Saturday at a memorial in Anchorage that drew prominent Alaskans from across the state, including some of the dozens of candidates who are running to succeed him.
Young died at 88 years old on a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle on March 18, bringing to a sudden end his 49 years as Alaska’s lone congressman.
The memorial at Anchorage Baptist Temple drew dozens from Alaska’s political establishment across the political spectrum, including current U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Anchorage Mayor Dave Bronson, former Gov. Frank Murkowski, former U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, several current and former state lawmakers, and U.S. Senate candidate Kelly Tshibaka, who is challenging Murkowski for her seat in November. The memorial also drew former Gov. Sarah Palin, who is one of 50 candidates vying for Alaska’s now-vacant U.S. House seat.
Young was remembered for his irreverence and steadfast dedication to the state.
“He was lovable but he was also irascible. He was irreverent at times, sometimes incendiary,” Murkowski said during the service. “Sometimes you could see collective eye-rolling. We’d call him out for it. But he was ours.”
Dawn Vallely, Young’s daughter, was 7 years old when her father was first elected for Congress.
“We shared him every single day with every Alaskan and with people across the world who looked to him for leadership,” she said.
Young moved to Alaska in 1959, just after statehood. In Fort Yukon, he taught fifth grade in a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. He was elected mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964, a year after marrying Lula Fredson, a bookkeeper in the village.
Don and Lu Young had two daughters, Joni Nelson and Vallely. Lu Young died in 2009. His daughters survive him, along with 13 grandchildren. He is also survived by his wife, Anne, and her two children and six grandchildren.
Young was elected for the state House and Senate before finally being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1973. There, he played an important part in laws affecting oil development, national parks and implementation of Native land claims.
“He will continue to influence the direction the state goes in,” Vallely said Saturday. “Sharing him wasn’t so bad.”
Politicians recounted during the service some of the many colorful moments in Young’s career and a personality that stood out in the nation’s Capitol.
“Don Young was authentic,” Sullivan said. “In an age of blow-dried, over-coached politicians, he was a throwback — a throwback to a time and place where people were respected not so much for how they talked and how they looked, but for what they could do.”
Dunleavy remembered Young calling him frequently to speak with him about his work as governor. In their last phone call before Young’s death, Dunleavy recounted a suggestion from Young: to bring a plane-full of Ukrainian refugees to Alaska and “put them to work in the fishing industry.”
The Anchorage memorial was held days after Young lay in state in the U.S. Capitol, where House members, senators and President Joe Biden paid their respects.
Bronson promised to rename the Port of Alaska in Anchorage after Young.
“Recently he came to my office to talk about the Port of Alaska. He really wanted to help us get it rebuilt,” Bronson said. “As he looked out the window, he said jokingly, ‘Mr. Mayor, there’s a lot of things in this state named after my good friend (former U.S. Sen.) Ted Stevens. But if you’re ever going to rename that port, I’d like to throw my name in the hat.’ We’re going to do just that.”
The service also included a sermon from Liberty University President Jerry Prevo, who was the longtime pastor at Anchorage Baptist Temple, and ended with a 21-gun salute to Young, who served in the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957.