Former Gov. Bill Sheffield has passed. He died at his home in Anchorage after an extended illness at the age of 94.
William Jennings Sheffield Jr. was the fifth governor of Alaska, from 1982 to 1986. A Democrat, Sheffield was born on June 26, 1928 in Spokane, Wash. He built and owned hotels under Sheffield Enterprises, eventually owning 19 hotels, which he sold to Holland America. Those hotels are now known as Westmark.
Sheffield had studied at DeForest Training School in Chicago and served in the U.S. Army Air Corps from 1946 to 1949. He moved to Alaska in 1953 as an employee of Sears Roebuck Company, arriving by steamship in Seward, taking the train to Anchorage, where he eventually founded his hotel management firm. He also served as president of the Alaska Visitors Association and the Alaska Chamber of Commerce and as national director of the U.S. Jaycees. Sheffield was a member of the Anchorage City Planning Commission and the Anchorage Charter Commission.
In the 1982 election, Sheffield won over Anchorage civic leader Tom Fink, a Republican; Dick Randolph, Libertarian; and Joe Vogler of the Alaska Independence Party. During his reelection campaign four years later, he was tarnished by a scandal that had led to impeachment hearings in the Senate, and he lost in the primary to Democrat Steve Cowper, who ultimately won the governor’s race that year.
After leaving the position of governor, Sheffield served as chairman of the Board of Directors for Alaska Railroad from 1985 to 1997. In 1997 he was promoted to President and CEO of the railroad, where he served until 2001. In the past few years he suffered from failing health and until recently, he hosted many political fundraisers at his home. The Don Young summer “Taste of Alaska” fundraiser was one that many in Alaska will remember attending in past years.
Former Gov. Sean Parnell, who had the support of Sheffield during his 2014 reelection campaign, issued a statement: “Sandy and I were saddened today to learn of Governor Sheffield’s passing. Bill’s contagious optimism and his larger than life vision for what Alaska can be and for what Alaskans can do together will remain as his legacy.”
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