Commentary: Remembering Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens

Among his many missions as a senator, Ted Stevens undertook to make Alaska aviation safer. He couldn't make it safe enough. The crash near Dillingham proves that. But as an old pilot who had flown in war time, he knew and accepted the dangers of flying in Bush Alaska.

Stevens also may have known that when a group of prominent Alaskans was asked to name the 100 greatest aviators in Alaska history, more than half the people on their list had been killed flying. Alaska is littered with aircraft wreckage. The names of the dead are affixed to our air fields -- Merrill, Eielson, for example. Nobody anticipated that when Anchorage International Airport was named for Ted Stevens he would be claimed by a crash.

Most of us thought the 1978 Anchorage crash that killed his first wife, Ann, was more than enough aviation tragedy for one family.

Ted Stevens survived that crash.

And he outlived all but a few of his peers, the men and women of territorial Alaska, especially Fairbanks where he got his start in 1953 as the district attorney.

Legend has it that he wore a pistol on each hip during gambling raids.

Legend has it that if you went to the notorious Raymond Wright's Southside nightclub at 5 in the morning you could see Ray and Ted huddling over drinks -- after they finished washing the glasses from the night before. Former marshal Frank Wirth, who worked with Ted, heartily endorsed this approach to law enforcement: "If you want to know what the crooks are doing, ask a crook."

Legend also has it that Ted was so hot-tempered at trial that judges, juries and opposing counsel expected him to go off like the famous geyser as Yellowstone.

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