Nome Rep. Richard Foster passed away yesterday.
The 63-year-old, who had been in poor health for some time, suffered a heart attack while undergoing kidney dialysis in Washington state.
Only two sitting legislators - Sen. Johnny Ellis and Sen. Lyman Hoffman - have served longer than Foster, who was elected in 1988.
Although registered as a Democrat, Foster caucused with the House Republicans. Like many rural Alaska lawmakers, Foster often voted not as a Republican or Democrat, but as a representative of Bush Alaska.
House Speaker Mike Chenault said rural Alaska and Nome lost a dedicated public servant with Foster's passing.
"Richard's sense of humor and camaraderie were hallmarks of the state House," Chenault said in a prepared statement. "He was a tireless advocate for his district and all of Rural Alaska's needs. Our sympathies and prayers go out to Cathy and their family tonight. Richard was an institution in this state, and he'll be sorely missed."
House Minority Leader Beth Kerttula, D-Juneau, released a statement as well. She noted her colleague's weekly Fridays with Foster get-togethers in his fourth floor corner office, a time of camraderie with music.
Her statement said:
"He was a kind soul, but anyone who knew him knew that he was also an amazingly tough and resilient man. Someone once said, 'If you were in a plane crash in the Arctic, Richard Foster is the guy you would want to be with to bring you out alive'.
"He served the people of northwestern Alaska in his father's footsteps, but Richard always set his own course, and it was a course that put the people he served above all else. I know they will miss him, and I know we all join them and his family in celebrating the life of an extraordinary man."
Foster's father, Neal W. Foster, served in the state's territorial legislature and in the state's early legislatures.
U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski served with Foster in the state Legislature, and sent out these personal reflections on her former colleague on Wednesday morning:
"I am deeply saddened to learn of Richard Foster's passing. Richard and I served in the Legislature together. Richard was a kind and thoughtful man who would, among other gestures, lead the birthday song for other members of the Legislature. Richard loved Alaska history and, in his spare time, he would pore through the archives, reading old newspaper accounts about life in Alaska. He would share copies of stories about my mother's family when they lived in Nome in the 1930s. He also sent "pick-me up" postcards to members, which also brought smiles. On so many occasions during serious and tense moments of debate, Richard was the one who would make a joke and bring some levity to the room. Richard was a fierce representative of the people of Nome and rural Alaska and always looked out for their best interests.
"Richard's passing is a real loss for the people of Nome, and for our state. He truly was one of my favorite people. He genuinely loved people and he was loved in return. I extend my sincere sympathies to his family, friends and colleagues during this difficult time."
U.S. Sen. Mark Begich also released a statement extending his condolences to Foster's family.