Barbara Andrews-Mee, who worked for Sen. Ted Stevens for 36 years, has died in Indian Lake Estates, Florida, where she was retired and had been battling cancer.
Many old-timer of Alaska politics remember her as a tireless aide with a great sense of humor, a loyal friend to the late senator, who described her as dynamite in a small package. She is survived by her husband, Vince Mee, her son Stuart and his wife Dorinda Crist, and son Scott and his wife Mas. She was predeceased by a son, Shawn, and her former husband Don Andrews.
She was born April 16, 1938, in Madison, South Dakota, outside of Sioux Falls. She came to Alaska in 1960 and started working for the senator in January in 1962, retiring in 1997. She worked on Third Avenue for Stevens when he was a lawyer in 1964, when the Great Earthquake struck Anchorage.
She married Vince Mee in 1995. Vince wrote on the Facebook page they shared: “Barb passed 2/22/17. She is the Love of my life. We were married 21+ glorious yrs. Soulmates to the end.”
In a tribute to Andrews-Mee when she retired in 1997, the late Sen. Ted Stevens read a long and loving statement on the floor of the Senate:
Mr. President, we are fortunate when our working associates are knowledgeable, efficient, responsible and willing to go the extra mile. But none of those attributes mean much over the long haul until you add loyalty to the mix. For half of my life–and two-thirds of hers–Barbara Andrews-Mee has been my boss–as a lawyer, a member of our state legislature and as a U.S. Senator.
Her talents are many. But, when I’ve been asked, “What is Barb’s best characteristic?” I say, “loyalty.” That means more to me than any of the help she’s given me and the people of Alaska over more than three decades: work above and beyond the call of duty.
Through our 36 years of working together, Barb has solved problems for countless Alaskans.
She’s been to hundreds–maybe even thousands–of meetings of civic and community groups to keep her finger on the pulse, to help keep me informed. A tireless supporter of our military men and women, she has attended ceremonies on bases and posts, on submarines and on her own ship, the U.S.S. Zephyr, a PC8 coastal patrol craft, which she christened.
Barb has watched parades and air shows and presentations of colors and speeches of all types, and worked to ensure that military people who serve in Alaska are treated with respect as our neighbors and constituents. Barb, can on request, put a file in my hand that is sometimes decades old. She can always locate them. She’s been the institutional memory for the young Alaskans who come to work with us, fresh out of school. And, after they’ve served on the Senate payroll and move on, they come back to see Barb.
My grandmother always told me, “Just remember, dynamite comes in small packages.” That’s Barb. She knows when to use her Norwegian stubbornness or her Alaskan toughness to get a job done. She also knows how to set me straight, and has done it many times.
Many a morning Barb has risen long before dawn, or many a dark night, well after others in Anchorage have gone to bed, she has traveled to Elmendorf Air Force Base to greet, in my name, dignitaries whose planes are making a brief stopover. She gives our visitors an Alaskan gift package–some smoked salmon, crackers, and candy. And every time afterward, the visitors say, “Remember me to Barb.”
She’s met my planes every hour of the day and night when I come home. And she’s made sure I made my flights back to Washington, DC, no matter how tight the time frame, possibly testing the speed limits along the way, but always getting me there. One year I came home 36 times. She met me every time but one. When I got there that night, having left the Senate at 4 p.m., battled traffic and got the 5:30 plane and arrived in Anchorage about 11:30 p.m., there was no one there. I waited, then called Barb. “What’s up?” I said to my sleepy friend. “What’s my schedule?” “You aren’t here, chief,” Barb said. “I won’t tell anyone you’re here if you won’t tell anyone I’m not there!” I went fishing and then went back to DC.
We’ve shared much more than a working relationship through the years, Mr. President. Barb’s friendship has meant much to me and my family. In our worst days, when I lost my wife Ann who was Barb’s good friend, Barb did everything possible to ease our pain, despite her own sense of loss.
Barb’s quick with the quip, and usually has a great joke to share when it looks like our spirits are low. Along with her job, and her sons, her daughter-in-law, and grandchildren, and her husband, Vince, Barb has another special love. It’s golf. The snow has hardly disappeared from our Alaska golf courses before Barb is on the links.
With Vince, she packs up her clubs and heads for sunny climes whenever there’s an opportunity. [[Page S4921]] Like everything else she’s worked on, Barb continues to perfect her golf game. We may not see her on the L.P.G.A. circuit, but she’s going to give those other lady golfers a run for their money.
Mr. President, it’s impossible to sum up 36 years of association in one small tribute. Mike Doogan, a columnist for the Anchorage Daily News, in a farewell column about Barb’s years with us, quoted her as saying, “It’s been a great ride.”
You bet it has. But more than all of her other great attributes, Barb’s loyalty has sustained me, comforted me, inspired me, and helped me to overcome tough situations. She may not be coming into my Anchorage office every day, anymore. She may be soaking up sunshine at her Arizona getaway, or on a Hawaiian Island or a Florida Key.
But no matter where Barb is, she knows she can count on me to be her friend for all time. There is no way to thank Barb, Mr. President. The words “Thank you” are too small to convey the depth and breadth and length of the gratitude I have for all of the wonderful years Barb Andrews-Mee has shared with me, with my family, and with Alaskans. We’ll miss our day-to-day contact, but we’ll always know we have a loyal friend.
Thank you, Mr. President.
WHAT DOOGAN WROTE
Sen. Stevens had printed into the Congressional Record this column by Anchorage Daily News writer Mike Doogan from May 18, 1997:
Andrews-Mee Leaves’em Laughing, and Grateful After 35 Years (By Mike Doogan) You have to say this for Barbara Andrews–Mee: She’s no quitter. She’s worked for the same fellow for 35 years.
``I have been with Ted Stevens longer than I have been with three husbands,” she said last week with a characteristic laugh. “It’s been a great ride.”
The ride ended this month, when Andrews-Mee retires as manager of U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens’ Anchorage office.
Resplendent in a red plaid blazer, Andrews-Mee sat in Stevens’ big office in the federal building and talked about her time with Alaska’s senator-for-life. Her own office, next door, was stacked with files she’s trying to clean out.
Her desk, which once belonged to Stevens’ predecessor, Bob Bartlett, was a jumble of notes and letters. Propped atop a filing cabinet was a big, black-and-white photo of a younger Stevens, looking like his dog had just died, with a hand- lettered caption that read: Whoever said it would be easy?
Maybe it hasn’t all been easy, but for Andrews-Mee it seems to have been fun. The woman is a pistol. Here’s just a sample:
On her height (she’s 5 feet tall): “I tell people used to be 6-foot-2, and then I went to work for Stevens.”
On her age (she’s 59): “Jeez, that’s hell, when you to have to admit your kid’s going to turn 40.”
On why she never ran for office herself: “Oh, no, my skin is too thin. Like the fellow who goes to a football game and when they go into a huddle, he thinks they’re talking about him?”
On the fancy new computer she has at home: “We’ve got the whole thing. Don’t get off at Chicago if you’re going to New York.”
On her plans for retirement: “My god, I am my mother. You know how you just become your parents? My mother was a holy terror 89 when she died and still dying her hair red. I’m not going to sit home and watch soaps.”
Instead, she said, she’s going to play golf–she’s still trying to break 100–serve on the Defense Advisory Commission on Women in the Services, and do volunteer work.
“It’s payback time,” she said, “my country and my state and my community.”
Andrews-Mee went to work for Stevens when he was just another lawyer with political ambitions. He was first elected to the state Legislature in 1962, before there was the oil money to pay legislative staff.
“In those days, Ted would find somebody going to Anchorage and give them three, four Dictaphone belts, and I’d type them up and send them back,” she said. “And that’s how we did legislative mail.”
Stevens’ political success since then owes a lot to Andrews-Mee. His office has a long-standing reputation for solving constituents’ problems, whether or not the constituent is a Stevens supporter.
“When somebody tells me, `I voted for Ted,’ I say, “That great, but we represent everybody,” she said. That attitude is a big part of the reason so many Democrats enter the voting booth every six years and quietly cast a ballot for the Republican.
One way or another, Andrews-Mee has made her boss a lot of friends. So it seems appropriate, out of respect for the job she’s done, to let Andrews-Mee say she’s been happy to do that for Stevens, to let her sneak in one last plug for her boss.
“He’s done a great job.” she said. “Why else would I stay with somebody for 35 years.”