Former House Speaker Gail Phillips died on the morning of March 25, 2021.
Born in 1944 in Juneau, Alaska, she was raised in Nome and lived in Homer and Anchorage, as well as in Juneau.
Phillips had been inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015. The biographer of the Hall of Fame wrote this of her life:
When asked why she has been known her entire life by her middle name, Gail says when she was born there was a popular song called “Ramona.” However, an older cousin who was living with the family at that time was named Ramona so in an effort to keep the two separate, Phillips’ folks started calling her by her middle name – it stuck and she only uses Ramona when signing legal documents.
Gail is a champion promoter of Alaska and its history says one of her younger sisters in her nomination of Phillips. She continued by saying Phillips has always been outspoken for the rights and betterment of all people.
Leadership comes naturally to Phillips. She was named one of the Top 25 Most Powerful Alaskans by the Alaska Journal of Commerce four times. In 1995 she was the highest ranking woman on the Journal list placing number 7; placing number 11 in 1996, number 5 in 1997, and number 14 in 1998. Some of the reasons are obvious. She was elected twice as speaker of the Alaska State House, serving four years (1995-1998) and she was the majority leader prior to that (from 1993-1994).
Of national note: when an Alaska ferry was being held hostage by Canadian fishing boats, Phillips was not going to be bullied. She stated to the media that the ferry was much larger than any of the fishing boats and that the captain should just get himself out of there.
In the mid-nineties Phillips, with other western legislative, county and local officials, along with some business people who together represented more than 44 million Americans, formed the Western States Coalition. This was done so they could speak with one voice to the federal government about their common concerns. “This is a very good thing for Alaska so we are not so isolated,” said Phillips in a news release. She served as co-chairman of the group from 1995- 1998.
During her State House speakership, Phillips delighted in inviting and conducting the U.S. House speaker and two Florida congressmen on a Western States Coalition tour of Alaska where she had the opportunity to talk about some of favorite subjects: tourism, economic development, international trade and military and veterans’ affairs.
Even in her younger years Phillips was a leader. While in high school she was elected to the student council and became their president. She served on the legislative (student) council for three years while attending the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. A lifetime Republican, she was an active member of the Young Republicans serving as president both in high school and university.
Phillips has lived almost exclusively in Alaska, the middle of five generations of her family. Only while Walt, her husband whom she met at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, was on temporary assignment with the trans-Alaska (Alyeska) pipeline design team, did she live in Texas (1971-1973).
After coming back to Alaska in 1973, the Phillips first lived in Anchorage, and then settled in Homer in 1978. They lived there until after she left the Legislature.
Phillips was born in Juneau to the pioneering Ost family but left as an infant and was raised in Nome. She attended public schools grades 1 – 12 with her six younger sisters then went on to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Phillips graduated in 1967 with a B.A. degree in business education. She has also taken a variety of additional courses there.
Phillips life isn’t all about politics. The “Iditarod bug” bit her and her husband early in the formation of the race. They became dedicated volunteers. One of her first jobs was making presentations to many local communities with Joe Redington, known as the father of the great dog race. In 1975 Phillips and her husband arranged for a babysitter for their young daughters, Robin and Kim, spending many evening hours volunteering at the race headquarters after work. As the years passed, both their daughters also became avid supporters.
In 1975 Phillips was elected to the board of directors serving through 1979. She took on the all consuming duties of race coordinator for the 1977, 1978 and 1979 races, and was the last person to fulfill this position on a totally volunteer basis. Phillips and her husband were the first officers or board members that were neither dog mushers nor directly connected to the race. At the beginning of 2015, they were two of 11 people called The Old Iditarod Gang who authored, published and distributed a seven-pound, 422-page coffee table book, an anthology about the first 10 years of the Iditarod called Iditarod – First Ten Years. They used Kickstart to raise the initial money. Both look forward to volunteering at the next great race.
Owning and managing a business in Homer, Quiet Sports Store, from 1978-1984 just wasn’t enough for the energetic Phillips. She became active in the Alaska Visitors Association; was elected vice chair of the Homer Convention and Visitors Association (1979-1980), and then served as president of the Homer Chamber of Commerce (1980-1981). From that position she ran for city council; to quote the Homer News, Oct. 1, 1981, she was “an outspoken advocate of tourism and we believe she would do a good job.” She served from 1981-1984. No longer owning the store, she ran for the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and served from 1986 to 1988 and also chaired the Alaska Municipal League’s Legislative Committee 1986-1988.
During most of this time she also was the elected state secretary (1982-1988) of the Republican Party of Alaska’s State Central Committee. She was a member of the University of Alaska College of Fellows, as well as the Kenai Peninsula College Council where she was chair and board member. The granddaughter of Methodist missionaries, she was a member of the Homer United Methodist Church. As a member of the Resource Development Council’s statewide board she continued her pro-development activities and is a long time member of Igloo #1 and Igloo#14, Pioneers of Alaska.
In 1983, Phillips and her husband, with one of her sisters and her husband (Barbara and Stan Lindskoog), combined their two last names to form Lindphil Mining Company. The two families, including their four daughters, formed the work crew that actively mined Goose Creek about 50 miles inland from Nome for about six years. They worked their medium-sized placer mine from the time the ground thawed until their sluice box froze or about the first of July through the middle of September. In 1989 they sold their claims to a larger company.
In 1988 Phillips ran for the State House but was defeated. She went to Juneau anyway working as a legislative aide to Senate President Tim Kelly for the next two years.
1990 brought a different result to her campaign for the State House. She was the top vote getter from among the Democrats and Republicans in the primary and went on to win the general election by almost 1,000 votes. Thus her Legislative career began. The last two of 10 years in the State House she served as the powerful Legislative Budget & Audit Committee chair.
In Phillips’ last election she ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor in 2002. She has since formed Alaska Campaign Strategies and has participated in a number of winning campaigns.
Other positions Phillips has held include:
Alaska 50th Anniversary Celebration Commission Chair, 2004-2006
Industry Liaison, Dept. of Labor – Business Partnership, 2006
Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, 2003-2006
Phillips has received a number of awards, some are:
Canadian Consul’s “Smashed Brick Award,” 2003
YWCA’s “Woman of Achievement” Award, 2009
Anchorage Chamber of Commerce, “Anchorage ATHENA Society” member, 2003
UAF’s “Distinguished Alumnus” Award, 2013