Passing: Former DOT Commissioner Joe Perkins - Must Read Alaska
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Passing: Former DOT Commissioner Joe Perkins

WORKED ON PROJECTS FROM SNETTISHAM TO HAARP

Joseph “Joe” Perkins passed away on March 25, 2019, from heart and kidney failure at home in Edmond, Oklahoma, where he and his wife moved from Alaska in 2015 as his health deteriorated.

Joe is survived by his wife, Laurie Prentice Perkins, and his children: Lindsay Rico (Joseph) of Edmond; Jack Perkins (Shawnee) of Seattle; Joseph Perkins (Josie) of Maui; and Tom Perkins (Lisa) of Fort Worth. He is also survived by three grandchildren, Grant Rico, Claire Perkins and Chase Perkins, and his brothers, John and Paul Perkins of Missouri. He was preceded in death by his parents.

Joe spent 40 years in Alaska.

Born and raised in Steelville, Missouri, he earned his BS and MS degrees in Civil Engineering from Missouri School of Mines and Metallurgy in Rolla, Mo.

He began his career as an Army engineer. During his first tour in Vietnam he lived with the Montagnards as an advisor to the South Vietnamese Army. During his second tour in Vietnam, he was the operations officer for a combat engineer battalion.

He supervised construction of an anti-aircraft missile site in Korea; roads and bridges in the Dominican Republic; an anti-ballistic missile system in North Dakota; perimeter anti-ballistic sites in remote parts of Alaska; and boat harbors and roads throughout Alaska.

He supervised the construction of the challenging rehabs of the Snettisham Hydroelectric Project in Southeast Alaska and the Chena Flood Control Project in Fairbanks.

He retired in 1982 a lieutenant colonel working as Deputy Commander of the Army Corps of Engineers, Alaska District. He turned down a promotion to Colonel because it meant leaving Alaska. During his Army career, he received two Legion of Merit awards, two Bronze Stars, and numerous other meritorious service medals.

As Alaska was growing in those post-pipeline days, its energy needs increased quickly. Joe joined the Alaska Power Authority and managed an aggressive design and construction program to meet those needs, including the completion of several hydroelectric projects that currently provide about 20 percent of Alaska’s low-cost energy. He then moved on to the private sector as Vice President and President of Frank Moolin and Associates where he led design and construction of numerous Alaska infrastructure projects, including the Anchorage Library, the Anchorage Museum and the Anchorage Landfill along with the construction of 120 post offices throughout the state, the utilidor in Barrow and the several road construction projects in Anchorage.

When the Alaska economy tanked in the late 1980s, Joe joined Moolin’s parent company, Ebasco, as its South American vice president where he completed the construction of the US embassy in Santiago, Chile and led business development efforts in South America.

But Alaska remained in Joe’s heart and mind and he soon found himself suggesting Alaska for an ionospheric research project while working for a defense contractor in Washington, DC. He subsequently developed that project in Gakona, now known as HAARP, the High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.

It was during this time that Gov. Tony Knowles asked Joe to return to Alaska as the Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Transportation. Joe jumped at the chance to continue developing and improving Alaska’s infrastructure.

As Alaska’s DOT Commissioner for eight years, Joe worked through the challenging budget reduction problems of the time. During those years, the department progressed from a highway department to one that served the unique transportation needs of all Alaska, including rural Alaska.

He helped elevate Alaska DOT to a national and international level when he served as President of the Western Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, the Vice-President of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and as one of two US delegates to the World Road Congress.

In each of those organizations, he was active and instrumental in changing and improving national and international protocols and standards used in highway design and construction. He also served on the Alaska Railroad Board of Directors and the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority Board of Directors for eight years.

After Joe retired from Alaska DOT in 2002, he lived in Juneau, but traveled the world helping developing countries plan their fledgling transportation infrastructure systems. He helped identify transportation corridors in Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan.

He worked with the President of Sao Tome to reroute transportation corridors to enhance economic development. He assisted the President of Gabon in analyzing access and transportation routes to be used in ecotourism development.

When medical issues forced Joe stateside, he focused once again on Alaska infrastructure projects, developing a sniper range at JBER and consulting with utilities, school districts, and the Mat-Su Borough on infrastructure projects. His final professional management project, the Port MacKenzie Rail Project, was still under development at the time of his death.

Other than the myriad of infrastructure projects that Joe championed, Joe’s greatest joy professionally was the hundreds of professionals he befriended and mentored over the course of his career. He loved his work and he loved the people he worked with. He brought a sense of fun and humor to his work, as his Halloween costumes and staff meeting antics often reflected.

He loved fly fishing with his friends, Wilson Hughes, Tony Knowles, Stan Hooley, and Sam Baker. He enjoyed travelling the world with his wife, Laurie. He read and studied history voraciously and often said that he would have loved to have been a history professor in addition to being an engineer.

Most of all, he loved his wife, children, and grandchildren fiercely. He championed Juneau football and served on the JYFL Board of Directors for several years. One of his proudest days was the day he was inducted as a Distinguished Alumnus at his alma mater.

A memorial service will be held on March 31, 2019 at Steelville Presbyterian Church in Steelville, Missouri. Joe will be buried with full military honors in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, DC.

The family wishes to thank the Alaska Heart Institute in Anchorage, the Integris Advanced Cardiac Care Hospital in Oklahoma City, Dr. Richard Welling of Juneau, and Lindsey Owen of Integris Hospice for their aggressive and caring treatment over the years. Should friends desire, memorial contributions may be sent to the Disabled Veterans of America.

(Photo by Dave Harbour)

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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

  • When I read the abbreviated story of this man’s life, I’m humbled to see how well he used the opportunities God gave him to serve the people of Alaska and the world, to learn about our world and make it a better place, and to love his family. Life is a gift, ours for but a brief time, and Mr. Joe Perkins clearly made the most of it. Requiescat in pace.

    • Wonderful words, Dan. Clearly, a life well lived with impact and purpose. Condolences to the Perkins family.

  • Joe Perkins was easily the best ADOT Commissioner during my 32 year Tenure as a Road Builder. Typical for Engineers was to gravitate to like minded people. Joe was different in that he quickly recognized Maintenance was in need of a Champion. He made it a point to visit the M/O Stations, no matter how remote. Joe has no problem relating to the Operators and Laborers in M/O.

    At the end of a major Highway project it is typical to have an array of the Politcal types clamoring for the spot light. Road Designers and Road Builders knew our place at these ceremonies, stay outa sight.
    Joe changed all of that recognizing from the ditch digger to the Project Engineer. That all stopped when Joe moved on.
    The True sign of greatness in a person is what they leave behind, Joe changed my and many others lives to the positive. Joe you will not be forgotten.

  • As a member of the Alaska Legislature, I had the privilege of working with Joe during the time he was the DOT Commissioner and greatly appreciated his in-depth knowledge of Alaskan issues. We could always count on getting the “straight scoop” from Joe and I respected his advice. I will miss him.
    Gail Phillips
    Former Speaker of the House of Representatives

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