A mighty tree has fallen: Murray Gildersleeve, 1929-2017

Murray Gildersleeve led a storied life in Southeast Alaska.

Murray Eugene Gildersleeve, one of the founders of Gildersleeve Logging Company on Prince of Wales, died April 28, at his home on the island of Maui. He was 87.

Born in British Columbia on Sept. 19, 1929, he came to Alaska in 1953 with his brother, J.R. (Roger), and the two went into the logging business before Statehood.

They had one of the first contracts with Ketchikan Pulp Co. and operated several logging camps in Southeast. Many Alaskans remember attending the Gildersleeve floating school, which followed the floating logging community from cove to cove and was last in Port Protection. The school closed in 2016.

Photo credit: McClureandsons.com 

Juneauite Tom Boutin worked for Gildersleeve Logging for several years after he came to Alaska. Boutin wrote this about the Gildersleeve operation, in a 2000 edition of the Juneau Empire:

Gildersleeve Logging has always been known for giving everyone a chance and being generous to a fault. There were usually women equipment operators at their operations and I saw them nowhere else until after I had been in Alaska for 20 years. Families down on their luck could always depend on Gildersleeve for an advance and a plane ticket. Commercial fishing boats often tied up to the camps for a few weeks’ work in the woods or on company boats. Gildersleeve originated many of the safety ideas that are now commonplace in the industry. While the past two decades were a little less colorful, I think Gildersleeve has better responded to industry changes, rebuilding and recycling equipment and supplies, and leaving logging sites cleaner than they found them.

Alaska may not again see the likes of Gildersleeve Logging, although the timber remains and the markets continue. But when many start-up schemes now include demanding something from government, every Alaskan should lament the demise of a small business that created high wage jobs for hundreds of Alaskans for 50 years without ever receiving a single government grant or special tax break (or asking for them), and without ever missing a payment or payroll.

“My daddy was a great and generous man,” said Susie Gildersleeve, who lives in Maui and cared for her father while he was in failing health in recent years. “And that part about leaving things cleaner and better than when we got there — oh so true. When we went camping both my folks policed the camp, leaving everything neat and tidy, splitting wood and leaving things clean for the next camper. — often cleaning up a campsite before we used it as others weren’t so thoughtful. They left us a wonderful legacy.”

“He had a sense of humor until the end,” she added.

Murray and his wife Elaine moved to Maui in their later years and built a home, which became a bed-and-breakfast that they operated for several years. Murray was also a highly skilled bush pilot, boat captain, outdoorsman, engineer, craftsman, and carpenter. On Maui, he would tend to pineapples and other fruits and vegetables in his fields. “Sometimes dad worked harder here than he did in Alaska,” Susie said. He and Elaine cared for many children who were not blood relatives throughout their lives. Elaine died in February.

Survivors include children Barbara Bunch of Boise, Idaho, Susie Gildersleeve of Maui, Hawaii, and Richard Gildersleeve of Wrangell, Alaska. He is also survived by seven grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.

Murray had an abiding faith in God. Over his lifetime, he was involved with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church and served in various capacities. A memorial service celebrating his life is planned for Sunday, May 14, at 11 am at Lahaina Seventh-Day Adventist Church.

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