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Jay Hammond, 83; Former Alaska Gov. Championed Oil-Royalty Fund

From Associated Press

Jay Hammond, a bush pilot and hunting guide who served two terms as governor during the pivotal years that helped define modern Alaska, died Tuesday. He was 83.

Hammond was found in bed by his wife, Bella, in their homestead about 185 miles southwest of Anchorage, according to Alaska State Troopers. He died of natural causes, troopers said.

Hammond, a Republican and a conservationist in a pro-development state, served in the Alaska Legislature for 12 years and was governor from 1975 to 1982.

He oversaw the first flow of oil through the Trans-Alaska Pipeline in 1977 and was a champion of creating the Alaska Permanent Fund, an oil-royalty fund that dispenses annual dividend checks to state residents.

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Also during his time in office, federal land reserves grew vastly, fishery stocks revived and Alaska’s broad-based tourism industry was born.

Republican Gov. Frank Murkowski said at a news conference that in Hammond’s death, Alaska had lost a giant who believed in the traditions of the state. He said he valued the friendship and opinions of Hammond, who epitomized “that group that lives on that rugged frontier.”

The son of a Methodist minister, Hammond was born July 21, 1922, in Troy, N.Y., but grew up in Vermont. Hammond briefly attended Penn State University before enlisting in the Marine Corps during World War II and serving as a fighter pilot in the Pacific.

He moved to Alaska in 1946, where he graduated from University of Alaska at Fairbanks and worked as a pilot. It was the first of many jobs, including trapper, wildlife biologist, government hunter, hunting guide, commercial fisherman and later, according to his 1994 autobiography, reluctant politician.

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“When it came to politics, as in many other of life’s activities, I preferred to be a loner,” he wrote. “Political power or leadership positions simply didn’t entrance me -- not because of selfless humility. I simply didn’t want to bear the burdens of hard work and the responsibilities that come with such jobs. Some folks thrive on pressure; I wither.”

After 12 years in the state Legislature, six each in the House and the Senate, Hammond retired in 1972 and resumed life as a Bristol Bay fisherman.

His retirement lasted only two years. In 1974, Hammond defeated former Govs. Walter Hickel and Keith Miller in the Republican primary and upset three-term incumbent Gov. William Egan in the general election by just 220 votes.

He campaigned as a proponent of “healthy growth,” but quickly picked up the derisive nickname “Zero-Growth Hammond” for his opposition to a variety of controversial proposals favored by pro-development forces.

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In 1978, Hammond again faced Hickel in the Republican primary. He won by only 98 votes, but racked up a 16,000-vote margin in November.

He said in his autobiography that he ran for the second term to create the permanent fund to keep all the oil wealth generated on the North Slope from being spent by eager politicians. The fund, which pays most Alaskans a much-prized annual dividend, is now worth more than $31 billion.

Even after leaving office, Hammond remained an admired public figure. For years he was the host of a popular TV program, “Jay Hammond’s Alaska.” He stayed in touch with what was happening around the state and rarely hesitated to weigh in on issues.

Hammond is survived by his wife and three children. Murkowski said a private burial service would be held today and a public memorial service would be held at a later date.

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