Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Governor Bill Sheffield

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor this week in recognition of Anchorage resident and former Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday. The policies that Governor Sheffield undertook and the projects that were built during his administration have a huge impact on Alaska today. Governor Sheffield was honored as part of Senator Sullivan’s “Alaskan of the Week” series.

Alaskan of the Week Bill Sheffield

Senator Sullivan Honoring Governor Bill Sheffield as Alaskan of the Week (click image or here to watch).


Mr. President, it is Thursday afternoon, and the new pages here will hopefully see that this certainly is one of my favorite moments in the Senate, and I know it is the Presiding Officer who gets to see the ``Alaskan of the Week'' every week around this time. I guarantee the young men and women who are doing a great job as our pages are going to start to view this as their favorite time, too, because they get to hear about Alaska and great stories about Alaska. They get to hear about great and wonderful people in the great State of Alaska who are doing great things for their community, their State, and their country. We call that person our Alaskan of the week.

From the onset, we have tried to focus, generally, on people who are unsung heroes in their communities--people who have worked diligently a lot of times without a lot of recognition. With my colleagues, I get to come and tell stories about what they have done for their community or State or even for their country. At other times, we recognize someone in our State who has made the headlines, someone whose contributions are well known through all parts of the State. We just do that because we want to reemphasize it, because it is important.

Today we are going to recognize one of those people who is well known in Alaska but whom we think is worthy certainly of the title of Alaskan of the week because of all he has done. His name is Bill Sheffield. He was our State's Governor in 1982, and he has spent his adult life making Alaska a better place for all of us.

Governor Sheffield's story in Alaska embodies what many of us love about our great State. It doesn't matter where you come from or your social status, in Alaska, if you have grit, tenacity, determination, and a servant's heart, nothing can hold you back.

Governor Sheffield was born in 1928 in Spokane, Washington. When the Depression hit, his family had to grow and sell vegetables to survive. It was during this time that he saw firsthand how President Roosevelt's New Deal, passed by this body, helped people, including his father, who was struggling. The idea that government was there to help people stayed with him and turned him into a lifelong Democrat.

He joined the Air Force and, after his release, joined Sears, Roebuck and Company. In 1952 he moved to the great State of Alaska to work for the company as it expanded throughout the State. He repaired televisions and appliances and took on sales roles, excelling both in repairs and sales.

He did this all while suffering from a serious, difficult stutter, one he had carried with him throughout his childhood. He said that when he was a child, he simply couldn't or wouldn't talk. ``I had to point to pictures,'' he told one interviewer. But his stutter lent him tremendous empathy, and it also steeled his determination to work hard to overcome obstacles and succeed.

And succeed he did. He got into the hotel business, eventually owning a chain of 19 hotels across Alaska, but he still wanted something more. He wanted to give back to his community. So, in 1982, as a long-shot politician, he ran for Governor. The long shot came in, and he won.

He always understood, and still does, that infrastructure is the key to creating a path for economic growth in Alaska. We are a resource-rich but infrastructure-poor State. The policies that he undertook as Governor and the projects that were built during his administration--likely more infrastructure projects than any other Governor--still have a huge impact on our State today.

Let me just mention a few of them.

The largest zinc and lead mine literally in the world, the Red Dog mine in Northwest Alaska, was made possible by his hard work and that of countless other Alaskans.

The Ketchikan Shipyard was built during the Sheffield administration.

An aggressive road and construction program was undertaken throughout the State, particularly in the city of Anchorage.

The Bradley Lake hydro project near Homer was built during his administration, along with several other hydro projects throughout Southeast Alaska.

He traveled extensively throughout rural Alaska. He went to almost every single village in our State. We have over 200 that are not connected by roads, so that was hard to do. Almost every one was visited by our Governor.

But his crowning achievement was the purchase of the Alaska Railroad. When he first became Governor, the Federal Government had owned the railroad and was threatening to shut it down, which would have been devastating to our State. There were no private buyers, so Governor Sheffield worked with the State legislature and the congressional delegation to buy the railroad from the Federal Government. Then they created a State-owned corporation designed to be operated like a private business, and that railroad, the Alaska Railroad, still serves as a critical transportation link for goods and people throughout Alaska. Since his time in office, Governor Sheffield has continued his ties to the railroad as CEO and chairman of the board.

He has also continued to serve in other public service capacities, such as the port director in Anchorage, and he has contributed to numerous causes and served on many charitable boards, like the Alaska Community Foundation board, and has received countless awards and recognition for his public service.

But what really makes Governor Sheffield so special to so many is that he is just a kind, warm person. He is always lending a hand to others. He is always there for many when he is needed. He does this without regard for political affiliation. His house is always full of Republicans, Democrats, and Libertarians. Last year, I was at a great event at his house, where he honored the Coast Guard Foundation. Many members, both current and past, from both sides of the political aisle--including from this body--have eaten wonderful dinners in his home, including my good friend Senator John McCain, who had dinner in Governor Sheffield's house with Senator Hillary Clinton. That is bipartisanship. When he opens his doors to his beautiful home, all are welcome.

Governor Sheffield recently celebrated his 90th birthday with a party in Anchorage. Unfortunately, I was not able to attend, but I heard it was one for the ages. Hundreds of people showed up. People from all walks of life and all political affiliations were there, all of them sharing deep affection for one of our State's giants, a man with a huge heart, who has made life better for countless Alaskans.

Governor Sheffield, from the Senate, happy 90th birthday. Thanks for your great service to our great State and all you have done. Congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

I yield the floor.