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Saturday, February 16, 2019
HomeColumnsThe passing of a legend: Mike Dalton of Fairbanks

The passing of a legend: Mike Dalton of Fairbanks

SHE WAS A TIRELESS POLITICAL ACTIVIST

Kathleen “Mike” Dalton died on Monday in Fairbanks, at home.

She’s been a force in Alaska politics since making Alaska her home in 1949. A staunch Republican, she never withheld an opinion, and always delivered it with conviction.

MustReadAlaska’s Suzanne Downing visited her at her snug log home outside of Fairbanks in November. It is the house built by her and her late husband, Jim Dalton, and it’s probably the stoutest, tightest house in the North Star Borough. Jim was a true legend in Alaska construction and it’s his name that is on the Dalton Highway.

Mike greeted this writer by saying, “I have a rule. Either you have an Americano or you have gossip, and I don’t see an Americano!!” She was sharp as ever.

So it was to be political gossip — Prometheus stories. Bill Walker stories. Maybe even some off-color stories.

Mike started the Interior GOP email newsletter in 1998 and ran it for 18 years before retiring from that task in 2016, so during this visit, the two newsletter writers shared notes. She had enough stories for a lifetime.

Kathleen ‘Mike’ Dalton

How did she become known as Mike?

Her Irish-heritage father wanted to name his children good Irish names: Pat and Mike. So the first girl born was named Patricia — Pat. When Kathleen (maiden name Fitzpatrick) came along, everyone just called her Mike.

Mike Dalton was raised on a Navajo reservation in Arizona until age 10. She graduated from Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, and then moved to Alaska with a school friend, Rosie Losonsky. Mike went to work for Arctic Contractors.

Soon, she met Jim Dalton, son of Jack Dalton, the Klondike gold rush legend and the man for whom the original Dalton Trial to Dawson was named.

The two married, and Jim became involved with development of the U.S. Petroleum Reserve on the North Slope and was a contractor for the Navy in the area of oil and gas exploration.

Jim and Mike lived in Barrow for several years, and they added their son George and daughter Libby to the family.

The Daltons purchased 30 acres on Yankovich Road in Fairbanks, where they build the family log home.

It was from that log home that Mike helped shape the future of Alaska. While Jim was busy on the North Slope, she remained active on behalf of political candidates.

Dalton joined the Republican Women’s Club of Fairbanks in 1962 and remained a member until her death. During that time she raised money, filed reports with the Alaska Public Offices Commission, and became a fortress of knowledge about Alaska politics. She also worked as a reporter for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, from 1961 to 1971, and reported on the 1964 Anchorage earthquake, the discovery of oil in Prudhoe Bay, and the pending construction of the Trans Alaska Pipeline.

Kathleen Mike Dalton as a reporter at the Fairbanks News-Miner.

In a word, she knew where all the bodies were buried. Her political newsletter in later years was a staple in the Interior for many years.

Mike ran and won a seat on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly upon its formation in 1964. She was the director of Alaska’s Washington, D.C. office for Gov. Jay Hammond, and was the Interior Alaska office manager for U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

Politics fascinated her. She was involved in every governor’s campaign since Statehood, including the Wally Hickel, Jay Hammond, Keith Miller, Arliss Sturgelewski, Frank Murkowski, and Sean Parnell campaigns. She also worked on the campaigns of Sen. Ted Stevens and Congressman Don Young, since he was first appointed and then had to run for his seat.

She was a staff member for Sen. Jack Coghill. Among her other experiences was helping the City of Unalaska organize the 50th commemoration of the bombing of Dutch Harbor and the Japanese occupation of Attu and Kiska Islands. Between all those causes, she had taught herself to speak Japanese and traveled to Japan.

She was GOP district chair for many years and was involved in helping the heavy hitters in early Republican politics, Wally Hickel, Elmer Rasmussen, Lowell Thomas, and Howard Pollock.

Mike Dalton, right, with Alaska’s second congressman, Rep. Howard Pollock, and Alaska’s first Senator, Bob Bartlett.

Mike helped organize and participated in the first American delegation visit to the Russian Far East and Kamchatka Peninsula.

She was both a member of the Alaska Pioneers, where she held every office including that of president of Women’s Igloo # 8 in 1997, but she also was one of the first non-Natives to be honored by the Fairbanks Native Association. She was an early advocate for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

Mike Dalton testifies in front of the Senate Energy Committee in 1980.

This skimming of Mike Dalton’s long and storied life is condensed from a more complete accounting of her amazing journey through Alaska history at the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.

Add your own memories below in the comment section.

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Suzanne Downing had careers in business and journalism before serving as the Director of Faith and Community-based Initiatives for Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and returning to Alaska to serve as speechwriter for Gov. Sean Parnell. Born on the Oregon coast, she moved to Alaska in 1969.

Latest comments

  • ……..And, Mike Dalton ran for Lt. Governor in the late 1970’s and campaigned in an old Winnebago, as she drove around the state of Alaska. A fiery, pioneer Alaskan, true to form. God rest her soul.

  • Suzanne, what a great article for a great lady. She was a mentor to many women including me. I admit it, she was my favorite Alaskan.

  • Very nice column.
    I worked with Mike Dalton when I was an Assistant Attorney General and she was working for Lt. Governor Jack Coghill.
    Mike Dalton was a thoughtful and quietly firm advocate for Alaska. She was delightful person and a pleasure to work with.

  • The early pictures of Mike are GREAT! I was honored to know Mike Dalton before I got involved with the Republican Party of Alaska. Then when I started working within the party she was a wealth of knowledge and support. Alaska has lost another strong woman, her wit and wisdom will surely be missed. Mike Dalton has left a remarkable legend for us to try to emulate.

  • Suzanne, is that a picture of you (without hat, lol) sitting across the coffee table with Mike Dalton at her log home in Fairbanks? Wow, what a privilege. Keep up the beautiful writing. Your words are precious.

  • Godspeed Mike, there will certainly be a great reunion in Heaven…

  • Seriously bad news for me! After your November article, I was so fascinated with this lady that I hoped to visit her this summer. I guess I missed out and I sorely envy you that opportunity. You were lucky to meet one of the really great ladies of Alaska.

  • Mike Dalton is a national treasure. She was a living treatise on grace, power, sincerity, and service. I considered every request she ever made of me to be the highest priority, before I even understood how amazing she was – that’s leadership. May I live to see its remote likeness. Thank you for this enchanting memorial.

  • They broke the mold when they made Mike Dalton
    Worked around her for many years in politics and learned so very, very much
    She always said it like it was
    Rest In Peace, my very special friend and mentor

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