Walter Hickle Willie Hensley and Ted Stevens.jpgUncle Ted: Pugnacious political papa

By Willie Iggiagruk Hensley
Published on Wednesday, August 18, 2010 8:22 PM AKDT

Forty-eight years ago, in the month of August in 1962, I met Ted Stevens in my home village of Kotzebue. I had decided not to return to the University of Alaska in Fairbanks that fall and was working for B and R Tug and Barge, owned by Edith Bullock, a former Republican territorial legislator. I had absolutely no concept of politics. Just nine years earlier, our family was living in a sod house twelve miles up the coast at Ikkatuq. I was trying to decide what to do with my life and Stevens was trying to set his course in life by running for the United States Senate. Lowell Thomas, Jr. was making a bid for the U.S. Congress and they were making a bush swing together. In those days, Alaska was very Democratic and the Republican duo was trying to make inroads in difficult territory.

Over a half-century later, I was amazed that Stevens had a much clearer memory of our first meeting than I did. He told me we were standing on the beach near a large piece of driftwood and he encouraged me to pursue the idea I then had of attending George Washington University. In those days, such a notion was almost laughable, since few Alaska Natives attended East Coast universities, but were channeled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs to technical schools or relocated to urban areas and the University of Alaska. As it turned out, I was accepted at George Washington and graduated in January of 1966. While Stevens and Thomas were not elected in ‘62—four years later, we all found ourselves colleagues in the state legislature. I was a single, wet-behind-the-ears 25-year-old neophyte politician and he was already a seasoned 39-year-old prosecutor with a family and had played a role in the creation of the new state of Alaska as a member of the Solicitors Office in the Department of Interior in the Eisenhower administration.
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