Former Alaska House Speaker Gail Phillips dies

Undated photo.
Undated photo.(KTUU)
Published: Mar. 25, 2021 at 4:06 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Rep. Gail Phillips, a former Republican House Speaker, has died, according to her family.

Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, another former House Speaker, also said during an address on the House floor in Juneau that Phillips passed earlier in the day.

“It’s with great sadness,” Edgmon started, “that the announcement of the passing of former House Speaker Gail Phillips was made public earlier today. Gail was someone who, if you were around the Capitol Building in the ’90s – like myself and a number of others were – you knew very well. Her husband Walter, and her children Robin and Kim, really were a fixture of the building.

“She was the second female speaker to serve behind Ramona Barnes, who was the first,” he continued. Edgmon then requested that the Legislature stand an observe a moment of silence for Phillips; they all obliged.

A public social media post from Phillips’ daughter, Robin, said that, “Gail passed on the glory this morning. It was peaceful and Dad, Kim, and I were with her. We are surround by family and the words of all Gail’s friends from all over the world.”

Robin Phillips, who also noted her mother’s long battle with cancer, said in her most recent post that a celebration of life for her mother will be held later this year.

“Gail was the instigator of the Grand Adventure in politics and in life,” Robin said via email Thursday evening. “She made sure we felt the same passion she did. She was a mentor and a leader. She was a force of nature.

“Through her, we experienced all aspects, from clam digging to gold mining to family gatherings,” she continued. “Nothing was done small; everything was on a large scale, and with vigor.”

Among the others expressing condolences Thursday was Rep. Cathy Tilton, R-Wasilla, who said in an email that Phillips helped blaze a trail for women in Alaska politics.

“And for that, I thank her,” Tilton said. “My prayers go out to her family and those who served with her.”

In an evening press release, Gov. Mike Dunleavy pointed to Phillips’ “significant and lasting contributions to the state of Alaska through a life of public service.”

“Gail was one who was widely respected by her colleagues and constituents alike,” Dunleavy said. “(First Lady) Rose and I thank Gail for her commitment to Alaska over her multiple terms in office, and offer our condolences to the Phillips family in their time of grieving.”

Dunleavy ordered that U.S. flags and Alaska state flags fly at half-staff in honor of Phillips on a date that will be determined following consultation with the Phillips family, the release said.

According to the Alaska State Legislature, Gail Phillips was born on May 15, 1944, in Juneau. A lifelong Alaskan, she also resided in Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage, and Homer during various points in her life: she graduated from Nome High School in 1962, went to college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and also attended UA for various courses post-graduation.

Phillips was also a member of the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, which described her as someone to whom “leadership comes naturally.”

“Gail is a champion promoter of Alaska and its history,” according to her HOF profile. “Phillips has always been outspoken for the rights and betterment of all people.”

Among her most notable government positions, Phillips served as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1998 and was House Majority Leader from 1993 to 1994 after serving as a legislative aide to the Senate President in 1989. She held the position of Legislative Committee Chair for the Alaska State Municipal League for a time and was a member of Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and Homer City Council, as well as a secretary for the Republican Party of Alaska.

Phillips was also a longtime community service member throughout her lifetime. Her efforts were put toward many different Alaskan entities, including but not limited to the Kenai Peninsula College Council, the Kenai Peninsula Chambers of Commerce, the Homer United Methodist Church, the Resource Development Council, the Homer Emblem Club, Pioneers of Alaska, and the Iditarod Trail Committee.

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