Picture, if you will, Marine Corps Colonel and U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan getting down on one knee and comically kissing the ring of the Dean of the House.
Or the story about how when, after years of work and frustration, the bill to open the 10-02 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to exploration and oil development was on President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature. Congressman Don Young attended the signing and turned to the president, who was barely into his first year in office, and said, “So YOU’RE the other Don in this town!”
Those stories and more were shared by Sen. Sullivan and leaders who spoke at the Anchorage memorial for Congressman Young on Saturday.
Over 500 Alaskans attended the memorial at the Anchorage Baptist Temple, and listened to memories and eulogies by elected officials including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, Sen. Sullivan, Gov. Mike Dunleavy, Mayor Dave Bronson, Pastors Jerry Prevo, Ron Hoffman, and Glenn Clary, and family members, including Anne Young, the congressman’s widow. The political establishment of Alaska was present, as well as over 100 former staff members for Young, many of whom flew to Alaska for the memorial service.
Sen. Murkowski spoke first and warmly about her longtime friend in the House: “He’s a teacher. He’s a trapper. He’s a tugboat captain,” said Murkowski. “He’s just kind of a regular Alaskan guy, who somehow or other decades ago, 49 years ago, found his way to Washington, D.C.”
Then it was Sullivan’s turn. In addition to acting out how he would fake reverence for the longest serving Republican in the House by kissing his ring, Sullivan told the story of Rep. Nancy Pelosi commenting on one of Young’s bolo ties that featured, a salmon, a seal, and a walrus.
“Don I love your tie,” Pelosi said. “You’re turning into an environmentalist.”
“No, Nancy,” Young replied. He pointed at the carvings on the ivory and said, in classic Don Young style: “This is lunch.”
“Probably more than any member of the House, Don knew how to get things done. In D.C. there are talkers, and doers,” Sullivan said. “Show horses, and work horses. From Day One, Don was a doer, a workhorse, and man! Did that matter for all of us here in Alaska!”
The day after Young was sworn in in 1973, there was a hearing on the Trans Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, Sullivan said. After being held up many years by environmental lawsuits, Young successfully pushed through his amendment to halt all the studies and the litigation and the lawsuits. It was a hard fight.
“Initially some on my own side were fighting against it,” Sullivan recalled Young saying. “But Don’s amendment prevailed.”
In remembering how much he means to Alaskans, “So many in the United States Congress felt the same,” said Sullivan. “And they did so because Don Young was such an integral part of this enduring American institution. Less than 50 Americans in our nation’s history have been afforded the honor of lying in state in our nation’s Capitol. And Don Young was one of them.”
Mayor Bronson gave wry-and-dry remarks about the late congressman. Young called him not long after Bronson took office. Bronson jokingly asked if Young was calling to give him advice about “turning on the fluoride,” in reference to a hot-topic item he was dealing with. Young just advised him to keep doing what he thought was right.
When Bronson announced to the audience that the city will rename the Port of Alaska the “Don Young Port of Alaska,” he was met with thunderous applause.
“He deserves that and his family deserves that. We’re going to get it done,” Bronson said.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy made a point to thank all the people who had put together the memorials, both in Alaska and in Washington, D.C., and gave a shout-out to Alaska Airlines’ Vice President Marilyn Romano for ensuring that Young and his family could get to the nation’s capital, and then back to Anchorage, and that the congressman’s body could be on an honor flight to the Capitol, so he could lie in state. He also thanked Curtis Thayer, Chad Padgett, Daniel George, and others for working hard to bring the memorial together for Alaskans.
“Don and I had things in common. Don moved to the state, like a lot of us did. Lived in rural Alaska, like I did. Married somebody local, like I did, in rural Alaska. Daughters, like myself, and like Sen. Sullivan and his wife, Julie. Loved hunting. Don was a teacher. And so there’s things we could talk about,” Dunleavy said.
“Obviously the oosik is legendary and the knife is legendary, and the trap on the hand is legendary. There are so many legends you’d have to have a book,” Dunleavy said.
The congressman’s youngest daughter Dawn told a story that showed Don Young as a young dad. Once when she was in grade school and having a particularly rough time, she told her mother that she “wanted my daddy.” At the time, Congressman Young was in Alaska, meeting with constituents. The next day her father showed up at her school in the middle of the day; he had flown all night to be with her because she said he needed him.
Pastor Jerry Prevo also spoke about the long friendship between him and Young that endured even after Prevo left Anchorage Baptist Temple to work at Liberty University. They would talk often. Prevo used his time at the microphone to do what he does best — remind people that if they want to see Don Young in heaven, the best way is to accept Jesus Christ as their savior, and he called out to the audience to sincerely embrace the Christian faith, if they were still on the fence about it.
Prevo donned the beaded bolo tie that Young gave him when he retired from Anchorage Baptist Temple two years ago.
No one was present at the memorial who remembered Young as a child or a young man. If he had been present, Young would have been one of the oldest in the building, having outlived so many of his contemporaries when he died at 88 years old on March 18.
A 21-gun salute and the presentation of the American flag to Anne Young, the congressman’s widow, finished the ceremony, which was followed by a reception. Some candidates for the congressional seat were at the event, including former Gov. Sarah Palin, Sen. Josh Revak, Nick Begich. Palin and Revak gave interviews to the media after the service in the foyer of the church.