Sullivan Recognizes Betsy Lawer as “Alaskan of the Week”

WASHINGTON—On the floor of the U.S. Senate yesterday, Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) recognized Betsy Lawer, the board chair, CEO and president of First National Bank Alaska, which is celebrating 100 years since its founding. Betsy is a member of the storied Cuddy family, which purchased a controlling interest in the bank by the early 1940s and helped grow it into an important financial institution supporting the growth of the state and economic opportunities for Alaskans. Lawer was recognized as part of Sen. Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Tribute to Betsy Lawer 

Madam President, it is Thursday, and we are back at it with our Alaskan of the Week series. We have been doing this for, geez, 6 years now, I think.

For the new pages, this is usually kind of the signal of the end of the week but also some really cool stories about Alaska. We know it is your favorite. 

We think some of the reporters in town like it because it signals kind of the end of the week for them. But I want to talk about, first, what is kind of going on in Alaska. Right now, the sun is high in the sky through much of the day. Some places up north are getting 24 hours of sunlight; midnight sun, we call it.

In Anchorage, we are getting about 18 hours, but that starts to decline real quick. But even when the sun sets, it is more of a twilight look than real night. So you have got to come up and visit; you will love it. It has been pretty rainy in parts of the State. We needed that rain.

But it can't dampen the magnificent grandeur of Alaska. So, again, if you are watching on TV, you want to come up, have the vacation of a lifetime, do it. The fish are running. We are having a banner year for sockeye salmon. The rivers all across the State are choked with them. 

Last weekend, actually, I partook at a particular unique Alaskan tradition with my wife and a couple buddies of mine. We went dip-netting. That is on the Kenai River. That is actually when there is so much fish you actually put a pole with a net at the end, and you just put it in the water--boom. You just start to catch them.

And you know, people go, Well, can you tell if there is a fish in your net? I am like, Oh, yeah, you can tell.

So my wife and I and our friends, we caught 36 beautiful sockeye salmon yesterday--or last weekend, about 5 hours of fishing. It was great. We just loved it.

So fishing, hunting, feeding our families from our land and waters is a big part of our life in Alaska. These traditions bind us. They keep us together as a State, as a community, as families. 

Our longstanding businesses are also part of the fabric of our State, particularly the ones that have grown up with our State. When the State's done well, they have done well. When the State struggled, they struggled; but they have hung in there. And we want to celebrate these businesses and the families that have run them.

And the great Alaskan we are honoring today as our Alaskan of the week is Betsy Lawer. And she is part of an amazing family in an amazing business in Alaska--First National Bank of Alaska, which this year is celebrating its 100th anniversary.

So it started in 1922. This amazing financial institution has been part of the landscape of Alaska--good times, difficult times--for 100 years. Betsy has been at the helm, a strong, sturdy force helping to guide this incredible business and, by extension, other businesses and communities throughout the State, part of her family tradition--the Cuddy family--for 100 years. 

So let's talk about Betsy and the family. She is the president of the First National Bank of Alaska and also part of a really impressive family that has run this bank for decades in Alaska.

So here is the beginning: Literally with a vault full of gold nuggets and untanned animal pelts, that was their original deposits. In 1922, First National was founded then in what was part of the rough-and-tumble tent city of Anchorage. Anchorage was referred to as a tent city.

In 1930, the patriarch of the Cuddy family, Warren Cuddy, began buying stock in the bank. By 1941, he purchased controlling interest, and Warren became the bank's president. Then, one of his sons, at that time, joined the bank's board--this is Dan Cuddy, the legendary Dan Cuddy, Betsy's dad. His service was remarkable. First, I would like to talk briefly about Dan Cuddy's service as an Alaskan veteran in World War II. 

He served as a captain in the 1255th Engineer Combat Battalion, which was attached to General George Patton's Third Army. Dan fought in the Battle of the Bulge in Luxembourg and was one of the troops who assisted in the discovery and then closing of the Buchenwald concentration camp. This is an American hero. 

And, by the way, throughout his entire career, I was so honored to meet with Dan Cuddy before he passed away in 2015. Throughout his incredible career, one thing he talked a lot about was the unspeakable atrocities that he saw in World War II, so it would never happen again.

So Dan Cuddy comes back from World War II--warrior patriot, war hero. He becomes a lawyer, and in 1951, he becomes the bank president. And the Cuddy family's involvement, again, throughout our State is legendary. 

The bank thrived after that under Dan's leadership. It grew with the State. It helped Alaskans rebuild after the huge 1964 earthquake.

By the way, do you want to read about a huge earthquake? It was 9.2 on the Richter scale, one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded. It destroyed cities, tsunamis. It lasted almost 5 minutes. Think about that, sitting through an earthquake for 5 minutes. 

And the bank the whole time kept supporting communities, and it continues to do that. It was among the first in the Nation to distribute check image statements to its customers in the 1990s. The only bank in America to welcome dog mushers through drive-throughs. Yes, think about that image.

And it is probably certainly the only bank in America that has a branch that is bilingual both in English and Yupik. That is the branch in Bethel, 1 of 19 branches across Alaska.

First National Bank of Alaska--100 years of service--has received so many accolades and awards, including being named one of the top banks in America, and it was recognized in 2013 as one of America's most trustworthy companies by Forbes magazine.

You can see the Cuddy family integrity in this institution. But the most important thing about First National Bank of Alaska's mission statement is that it is what drives the bank: Success depends on taking care of the community, employees, and customers. If the community isn't strong, businesses won't be strong, the bank won't be strong. 

So, Betsy, one of Dan and Betti's six children, was raised on those tenets that I just talked about. She saw how they worked firsthand.

On Saturdays, she would join her father Dan while he went on his outings visiting customers. Sometimes those visits happened in Anchorage, where she would politely listen to business being discussed and then grab a late breakfast at Peggy's, a mainstay in Anchorage. Sometimes they would jump into a prop plane and head out to rural Alaska, where she learned so much about that part of our great State.

Betsy said she loved those visits and she learned, in the ways that children do, that helping people realize their hopes and their dreams is what her father did, what their business did, and why it was so important to so many Alaskan communities.

Jump forward to September 10, 1969. Betsy was a college student at Duke, spending her summers, as she always did, working at the bank as a secretary at the bank.

Just down the street from First National in downtown Anchorage, the Prudhoe Bay oil lease sale was underway. This is the giant oilfield in Alaska--oil and gasfield. The first big lease sale by the State. It was a huge event for our Nation, huge event for Alaska.

Back then, the country needed Alaska oil and gas, just like today our country needs Alaska oil and gas.

On that day in September 1969, Betsy remembers looking out the window of the bank. She said the streets were completely empty, like the ``Twilight Zone.'' Everybody was huddled in front of their radios, listening to the lease sale that would change Alaska and, in many ways, America forever.

First National Bank of Alaska--the Cuddy family's bank where she was working, her dad was president then--was assisting Bank of America on the lease sale. 

After the sale, get this image, Betsy got a ride back to the east coast on a jet with bank executives headed to New York to directly deposit the $900 million check that was made out to the State of Alaska--that is about 7 billion in today's money--that got our State up and moving. She was on that plane depositing that money. Imagine the excitement that she felt then. 

The first thing Betsy did after that when she got back to Duke was to change majors from interior design to economics, which was probably a good move for a future bank president. 

Two years later--she didn't even wait for her graduation ceremony--she came back to Alaska and immediately got to work. Now, because management programs back then were mostly for men, Betsy started from the bottom up--teller, clerk, secretary--which she said later in life gave her an advantage when she began processing loans for the bank because she knew exactly how it all worked and the people at every level in that bank. She knew the bones of the bank and the banking industry. 

Throughout the years, as the bank has grown, our Alaskan of the Week, Betsy, has grown with it. She became president of the bank in 2013, CEO in 2018, and she is also the board president.

She is a mother, a wife, an active member of the community. She is a great community banker, and I will tell you this. During the pandemic, there was no financial institution that was more dedicated to getting the PPP loans out to small businesses in Alaska than First National Bank of Alaska and Betsy Lawer. They did an incredible job. 

Betsy helps people in our State realize their hopes and dreams, and for Betsy, it all comes down to having a deep understanding and caring for the community--the many communities that they serve. ``You can't automate those relationships,'' she said. 

So I want to thank Betsy, the Cuddy family, congratulate the First National Bank of Alaska--100 years of service to our great State, what an amazing record. And I want to congratulate Betsy on perhaps one of her most prestigious awards ever: being Alaskan of the Week.

# # #