Alaska’s first governor, Bill Egan, subject of undergraduate research

October 23, 2013
William Egan

Alaska’s first governor, William Egan

On Tuesday, Oct. 8, political science students Calvin Henry and Samantha Mack presented their research on Alaska’s first governor, Bill Egan, and the impact his early decisions had on Alaska’s oil pipeline and fisheries policies related to Alaska Natives.

To back track a little, Bill Egan was a critical personality for Alaska as it made the delicate shift from a revenue-starved territory to full status as a state. His first term lasted from Jan. 3, 1959 through 1966. He served again from 1970-74.

Some interesting facts about Egan:

  • He was a Democrat.
  • He was born in Valdez, one of six children in a working-class mining family.
  • His father died when Bill was just 10 years old, so he worked in a local cannery to help out his mother.
  • He graduated as  valedictorian of Valdez High School in 1932, and followed his godfather, Anthony Dimond, into politics.
  • He would eventually win seats in the Alaska Territorial House of Representatives and Senate, and as mayor of Valdez.
  • After World War II, once Alaska was connected to the Lower 48 by a highway, Alaska pressed for statehood, holding a Constitutional Convention. Egan decided to run for governor, succeeded, and helped the territory transition toward statehood. He did not win re-election again until 1970-74.
  • He was Alaskan of the Year in 1971 and won an Honorary Degree of Laws from the University of Alaska in 1972.
  • He died in 1984.

Today Alaskans remember their first governor on Egan Day,  Oct. 8, the very day this year that UAA’s two scholars presented their research before a public audience in UAA/APU Consortium Library, Room 307. Their work earned them Egan Awards.

Political science students with professor at Egan Day event Oct. 8, 2013

Calvin Henry, left, and Samantha Mack, right, each delivered research comparing Bill Egan’s approach to solving a public policy issue in the state’s early days with similar issues today. Their professor, Forrest Nabors, is center.

That award is the effort of  two Alaskans who served alongside Egan during the state’s earliest days. Eric Wohlforth, Egan’s commissioner of revenue, and Joe Henri, commissioner of administration, established a scholarship in his name in 2005. The award provides financial assistance to students majoring in political science or history at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus or Prince William Sound Community College. To qualify, students must research or study Egan, Alaska politics, history or statesmanship.

This year’s two award winners each earned $1,000 for their papers that tackled distinct areas of Egan’s policies: the oil pipeline negotiations, and fisheries policy early in statehood. You can hear their talks on this UAA podcast. Find a version of this story on the Anchorage Daily News website, published Oct. 20, 2013.


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