Don Young, a blunt-speaking Republican and the longest-serving member of Alaska’s congressional delegation, has died. He was 88.

His office announced Young’s death in a statement Friday night.

“It is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that we announce that Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Dean of the House and respected champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling to Alaska to be with the state and the people what he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side,” said his spokesman, Zach Brown.

Young, who was first elected to the US House in 1973, was known for his brusque style. In his later years in office, his uncolored comments and blunders sometimes overshadowed his work. During his re-election bid in 2014, he described himself as intense and less than perfect, but said he wouldn’t stop fighting for Alaska.

Republican Don Young, R-Alaska, died March 18, 2022.

Bill Clark | Cq-roll Call, Inc. † Getty Images

Born on June 9, 1933 in Meridian, California, Young grew up on a family ranch. He received a bachelor’s degree in teaching from Chico State College, now known as California State University, Chico, in 1958. He also served in the United States Army, according to his official biography.

Young came to Alaska in 1959, the same year Alaska became a state, and credited Jack London’s “Call of the Wild,” which his father used to read to him, having drawn him north.

“I can’t stand the heat, and I worked on a ranch and I always dreamed of a cold place, and no snakes and no poisonous oak,” Young told the Associated Press in 2016. After leaving the military and after his father’s death, he told his mother that he was going to Alaska. She doubted his decision.

“I said, ‘I’m going up (to) herd dogs, catch fur, and I want to mine gold.’ And I did that,” he said. In Alaska, he met his first wife, Lu, who convinced him to go into politics, which he says was unfortunate in a way — it sent him to Washington, DC, “a place hotter than hell in the summer. And there are many snakes here, two-legged snakes.”

Alaskans have been generous with their support for me because they know I get the job done. I will defend my state to the last breath, and I always will and they know it.

In Alaska, Young settled in Fort Yukon, a small community primarily accessible by air at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers in the state’s rugged, rugged interior. He had jobs in areas such as construction, catching and commercial fishing. He was a tug and barge operator who delivered supplies to villages along the Yukon River and, according to his biography, taught fifth grade at a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. With Lu he had two daughters, Joni and Dawn.

He was elected mayor of Fort Yukon in 1964 and elected to the state house two years later. He served two terms before winning the state senate election, where he said he was miserable. Lu told him to stop working, but he resisted and said he wouldn’t cancel. He recalled her encouraging him to go to the US House instead, saying he would never win.

In 1972, Young was the Republican challenger to Democratic US Rep. Nick Begich. Three weeks before the election, Begich’s plane disappeared on a flight from Anchorage to Juneau. Alaskans re-elected Begich anyway.

Begich was pronounced dead in December 1972 and Young won a close special election in March 1973. He held the seat until 2022 and was up for re-election in November.

In 2013, Young became the longest-serving member of Alaska’s congressional delegation, surpassing the late U.S. Senator Ted Stevens, who served 40 years. That year, he also became the longest-serving Republican in the U.S. House.

In 2015, nearly six years after Lu Young’s death, and on his 82nd birthday, Young married Anne Garland Walton in a private ceremony in the chapel of the United States Capitol.

“Everyone knows Don Young,” he told the AP in 2016. “They may not like Don Young; they may like Don Young. But they all know Don Young.”

Young said he wanted his legacy to be one of working for the people. His career highlights included passing legislation his first year in office that enabled the construction of the trans-Alaska pipeline system, which became the economic lifeblood of the state. With that successful pipeline fight, “I found a place in my life where I enjoy working for the people of Alaska and this nation — especially the people of Alaska,” Young said in 2016, adding later, “I love the House.”

Throughout his career, he unabashedly supported earmarking as a way to land projects and build infrastructure in a geographically vast state where communities range from large cities to small towns; critics considered ear tags to be pork.

Calling himself a conservative, Young won voter support for his views on gun and hunting rights and a strong military. He made a career for himself against “extreme environmentalists” and a federal bureaucracy he saw as locking up Alaska’s mineral, timber, and petroleum resources. He said his word was a “gold bond.”

He said he was happy every time he could help a voter. “And I try to do that every day, and I’m really good at it,” he told AP in 2016. At the time, he said he had passed 190 of his bills through the House of Representatives and 77 signed by a president.

His career was marred by investigations and criticism for his casual and often abrasive style.

In 2008, Congress asked the Justice Department to investigate Young’s role in securing a $10 million earmark to widen a highway in Florida; the case was dropped in 2010, and Young denied any wrongdoing.

In December 2011, the US House Ethics Committee said it was reviewing its rules to impose new contribution limits on owners who run multiple businesses in response to questions from the impartial Office of Congressional Ethics about donations to Young.

In 2014, the ethics committee found that Young had broken house rules by using campaign funds for personal travel and accepting inappropriate gifts. Young was told to refund the value of the travel and gifts, totaling about $59,000, and change financial disclosure statements to include gifts he failed to report. The committee also issued a “letter of reprimand” or reprimand. Young said he regretted the “oversight” and apologized for not following the House’s code of conduct “pretty carefully”.

Fresh off a 2020 reelection win, Young announced he had tested positive for Covid-19 months after calling the coronavirus the “beer virus” in front of an audience that included older Alaskans and saying the media had contributed to hysteria over Covid — 19.

He later called Covid-19, for which he was hospitalized, gravely and encouraged Alaskans to follow guidelines designed to protect themselves from the disease.

Despite the controversies, voters continued to send him back to Washington, something Young did not take for granted.

“The Alaskans have been generous with their support for me because they know I have the job done,” he said in 2016. “I will defend my state to the last breath, and I always will and they know it.”

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