Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Hugh “Bud” Fate

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Dr. Hugh “Bud” Fate, of Fairbanks, Alaska, on the floor of the U.S. Senate last week. Bud, who recently celebrated his 90th birthday, is a legend across Alaska. He has been a rodeo cowboy, a college football player, a roughneck, a soldier, a gold miner, a carpenter, a hunter, a commercial and subsistence fisherman, a dog musher, a bush  pilot, a dentist, a businessman, a state representative, an author, an artist—an Alaskan renaissance man through and through. But most importantly, he is a dedicated father, grandfather, husband to his wife, Mary Jane, for 65 years, and a man who has lived his life in service to his country, his State, and his community. He is also Senator Sullivan’s father-in-law.

Senator Sullivan recognized Bud as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Mr. SULLIVAN. Mr. President, it is that time of week in which I get to come down to the floor of the U.S. Senate--a great privilege--and talk about a special person in Alaska, somebody who helps to make my State the greatest State in the country, in my opinion. We call this person our Alaskan of the Week. It is one of the best things I get to do all week. I know that the pages really enjoy it as well because they get to hear about Alaska and all of the things that are happening.

Before I recognize our special Alaskan, let me tell you a little bit about what is going on in Alaska right now.

We have had some strange weather in Southcentral Alaska--warm by our standards--that being wet and windy, with gusts over 100 miles per hour in some places. In Fairbanks, which is in the interior--I was just up there last week and am going to talk about that, for it is where our special Alaskan of the Week is from--it feels a lot more like winter.

It got down to 27 below zero last week, and now it is in the single digits.

When it comes to Alaska's interior weather, there is some debate as to what the lowest recordbreaking temperature was in Fairbanks. Some say it was 66 below zero in 1934, and others say it was in the negative 70 and 70-below-zero territory.

The numbers do matter. Take it from Dr. Hugh ``Bud'' Fate, who is our Alaskan of the Week--we call him Bud--who, during the time he was working construction on the North Slope in the early 1950s, once had to walk a mile for shelter after a tractor he was operating froze up. 

“When I got to the station, they told me the official temperature was 70 degrees below zero,” he said. “I was dressed for it”--Bud is a tough guy—"but my fingers and my toes were getting cold. I don't think I could have made another mile,” Bud said.

Bud, we know you could have. We know you could have.

That is just one of many stories that Bud tells about his 70 years of living in the great State of Alaska.

So let me talk about Bud Fate--a legend across our State. He just turned 90 years old last week. He has been a rodeo cowboy, a college football player, a roughneck, a soldier, a gold miner, a carpenter, a hunter, a commercial and subsistence fisherman, a dog musher, a bush pilot, a dentist, a businessman, a State representative, an author, an artist, an all-around rabble-rouser, and an Alaskan renaissance man through and through.

But most importantly, he is a dedicated father, grandfather, husband to his wife, Mary Jane, for 65 years, and a man who has lived his life in service to his country, his State, and his community--very worthy of being our Alaskan of the Week.

So Bud Fate was born on December 4, 1929--90 years ago last week--and raised in Eastern Oregon--Cowtown, he called it. He began riding a horse when he was just 6 years old, eventually riding on the rodeo circuit, getting bucked off horses all across the American West.

He went to college at the University of Washington, where he initially played football. After he got hurt, he enrolled in a drama class and had dreams, when he made his way to California, to Hollywood, to work as an actor or as a stuntman in cowboy movies and films.

As it turned out, it wasn't California that called him; it was Alaska that called him--specifically, a good job in the far north of Alaska, a place called Umiat, working on oil rigs not too far away from what would become the biggest oil find ever in North America, the mammoth field at Prudhoe Bay. Bud was 20 years old, working 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. Even though it was a barren and cold, cold place--this was in the winter--he fell in love with it. Alaska grabbed him, as it does to certain types of adventuresome, intelligent, and fiercely independent individuals.

It grabbed Bud, and it didn't let go--never let go. He was one of the drillers working on the shift which brought the first oil to the surface that came out of this rig in Umiat. Bud likes to describe it as this almost beautiful orange color, some of the first oil in Alaska in the fifties, early fifties--pretty exciting.

He was working on the slope when, in 1950, a radio message came in where they were working that the United States was at war in Korea.Bud said: 

I remember thinking it wouldn't affect me way up here on the North Slope of Alaska. Nobody is going to find me, a 20-year-old, but 2 weeks later, I got my first draft notice.

That is what Bud said. I guess it goes to show you Uncle Sam can find you anywhere if he wants you.

As a U.S. Army corporal, Bud was attached to the 11th Airborne Division when he got deployed not to Korea but actually back to Alaska. He was charged with riding the lead Jeep to conduct the combat survey on all the twists and turns of the newly constructed, 1,700-mile-long Alcan Highway, advising the mission commanders about the Arctic, cold weather, and Alaska.

A couple of years later, he was out of the Army, back in Alaska, and he was having a drink one night at the famous Rendezvous Club in Fairbanks, a tongue-tied veteran, he was, and in walks a Miss Alaska contestant--or should I say, from Bud's perspective, in walks destiny.

Whom am I talking about? Who was the destiny?

Well, it is Mary Jane Evans, a young, smart--according to Bud--``Hollywood beautiful'' Athabaskan woman from the small Yukon River village of Rampart. She took his breath away. As a matter of fact, she took everybody's breath away.

Now, Bud, at this event, was wearing moccasins. Mary Jane was wearing stilettos, and she promptly stepped on his toes, but it was still love at first sight for both of them, and according to Bud, it still is, 65 years later. For 65 years, they forged a life together, Bud and Mary Jane, the theme of which centered around public service.

Always working together, they raised three beautiful, kind and keenly intelligent daughters--keenly intelligent--and they worked to fundamentally change Alaska for the better, both through institutions and volunteering at organizations and through individual actions that profoundly impacted so many Alaskans over the years. 

Eventually Bud, using the GI bill, went back to college, and then he went to get his degree in dentistry. He was a beloved dentist not only in Fairbanks but all across the region. 

Now, he was a bush pilot, and he had a plane, so he and Mary Jane, who was a trained dental assistant, traveled all around the small villages in the interior.

Trust me, these villages do not and certainly back then did not have any dental care, so they provided dental care throughout the interior to tiny, little communities for free, for anybody who needed it.

As their three daughters were growing up--Janine, Jennifer, and Julie--it was a big time, a momentous time, in Alaska.

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was being debated. One of the biggest land settlements in American or all history took place right here on the floor of the U.S. Senate.

Bud and Mary Jane were both highly involved in this monumentally important bill for Alaska and in the overarching efforts to attain rights and lands for the Alaska Native people.

One of Bud's best friends was Ralph Perdue, a strong Alaska Native leader, who, along with Mary Jane and Bud, founded the Fairbanks Native Association. Working together, they focused heavily on education for Alaska Natives, particularly high school education, something most Americans take for granted. Until 1970, rural Alaska-a huge swath of America--by and large did not have any high schools. The small communities, small villages, did not have any high schools. To get a high school education, young students and even children had to leave their homes and their villages and travel to boarding schools in very faraway places in Alaska and in the lower 48.

Now, that was an injustice--one, among others, that the Fairbanks Native Association decided to tackle. They produced studies. They gave lectures. They talked to State officials. They talked to Federal officials. They and so many others across the State helped lay the groundwork for the seminal lawsuit brought by a group of Alaskans that resulted in a State-signed consent decree to provide high schools in communities throughout the State--communities with at least 15 students--rather than sending their children all across Alaska, hundreds of miles away, or to the lower 48, thousands of miles away.

At the time, this education settlement was the largest education settlement in American history, but Bud's commitment to education didn't stop there--not even close. He was on the Board of Regents for the University of Alaska, eventually serving as president of the university. It should be noted that later, Mary Jane, his wife, also served on this very important board.

With a combined 24 years of service together, Bud and Mary Jane were on the University of Alaska Board of Regents. Bud helped run the university when the president abruptly resigned.

He and Mary Jane also opened their home to villagers all across the State who came to Fairbanks and just needed a place to stay. They knew that Bud and Mary Jane would take them in. “Our house was always full,” their lovely daughter Julie said.

There were always people living with us who were empowering themselves through education. To this day, I still have Alaskans stop to tell me how they were helped and given a second chance by my parents. 

As Julie also noted, there was always a huge amount of smoked salmon strips on the table for all to share--the best smoked salmon in Alaska, I might add.

There is so much more to Bud Fate's life. For instance, at the young, tender age of 70, he decided he was going to run for office. He ran for the State legislature, and he won in a landslide. He served two terms. 

He was immediately elected chairman of the Natural Resources Committee, which is a huge, important committee in Alaska, and was highly respected on both sides of the aisle.

The list of boards and commissions that he sat on is way too long to go into here, as is the list of service organizations he has volunteered for and led.

He has known Presidents of countries and dignitaries from all over the globe. He is as comfortable at his fish camp on the Yukon River as he is in the board room.

As I mentioned, he is a rabble rouser with very strong opinions--I have heard them for many years, but at heart all of his opinions are focused on a commitment to treat everybody with respect and kindness and provide every Alaskan--every American--an opportunity to better themselves. 

He is a good man--Bud Fate--one of the best. The measure of Bud and the impact of his life is probably best reflected in his family and his friends, so many of whom gathered in Fairbanks on December 4 for his 90th birthday, where people from all walks of life all across the State came together--well over 100--talked about his generosity, how it impacted them, how it impacted families, and how it impacted people all around him.

People gave speeches about how he and Mary Jane took in people from all walks of life--veterans coming back from Vietnam who needed comfort and respect, people who needed a helping hand, food, warmth, just love. He lifted people up, so did Mary Jane, and they saved lives.

I was actually one of those people giving a speech in Fairbanks at Bud's 90th birthday party, and I talked about the profound impact Bud has had on my own life--after all, Bud Fate is my father-in-law, and I can't imagine a better one.

He has taught me so much. Bud and Mary Jane, along with my own mom and dad, have provided me a model--actually, for me and Julie, my wife, of what a true partnership looks like. He is a model for how fulfilling a life of service can be, especially a life in the great State of Alaska.

As I mentioned, he is not just a model for me but for the whole State of a life well lived and a life lived in full.

So, Bud, thanks for all you have done for Alaska, for America, for Fairbanks, for our family, for our great State, and all you continue to do. Thanks for being a great father-in-law and a friend, and, Bud, congratulations on being our Alaskan of the Week.

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