Just this year Alaska has lost two of its most powerful leaders in Sen. Ted Stevens and Wally Hickel. In recent years we've lost other longtime leaders who left lasting marks on Alaska — former Gov. Jay Hammond, former Anchorage Mayor George Sullivan, former state Sen. Frank Ferguson among them. We know no one's immortal. But some of these leaders were part of the Alaska public landscape for so long we tended to take them for granted. They're simply there, landmarks and reference points, people who define the place and time.
When they're gone, life goes on, but there's something missing. It's as if Mount Susitna, the Sleeping Lady, has just been lifted out of the landscape and left a hole in the horizon.
Sen. Stevens' untimely death, even at his age, makes us think about his long, rich life. He shared with Hammond and many other older Alaskans the World War II experience. They eventually became known through news anchor and writer Tom Brokaw as "The Greatest Generation." But it was Hammond, a Marine fighter pilot in the war, who once wrote a different take on his generation. He said he thought of his as The Luckiest Generation, because he and his peers faced harrowing challenges and great opportunities not given to every generation.
The lesson in the lives of Stevens, Hammond, Hickel and company applies across generations. They rose to the challenges and seized their opportunities. They made things happen. They stood for something. They loved their families and their work, cared for people beyond themselves and had visions for making people's lives better.
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