Pay Bills

Former Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield dies at 94

Bill Sheffield served as Governor of Alaska from 1982 to 1986. (Courtesy Alaska State Library, Alaska Office of the Governor Photograph Collection, ASL-P213-5-10)

Former Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield died Friday morning at his home in Anchorage. He was 94 years old.

Sheffield had no surviving family. But as his health began to decline, friends braced this obituary for him, describing his struggle with stuttering as an adult, becoming a hotel entrepreneur, his political life, and his dedication to Alaska.

Governor Bill Sheffield
Bill Sheffield. (Courtesy of Alaska State Library, Alaska Governor’s Office Photograph Collection, ASL-P213-5-02)

“The most important thing to know about Bill Sheffield is that he loved Alaska,” said John Pugh, one of the friends who came to Anchorage to spend time with Sheffield during his final weeks.

Pugh led the state’s Department of Health and Social Services under Sheffield and maintained a close friendship with it long after he lost re-election in 1986.

“His entire life has been spent trying to make Alaska a better place for all Alaskans,” Pugh said. “And until the day he died, that was his message to all of us who were friends and his message to everyone who listened to him: ‘Let’s work together to make Alaska a better place to live and let’s continue to make Alaska better for all Alaskans.

Sheffield was born in Spokane, Washington in 1928. He grew up during the Great Depression on a small family farm. He came to Alaska in 1953 to sell and service appliances for Sears Roebuck.

He became active in a local chamber of commerce group. Before becoming governor, Sheffield founded a company that eventually owned 19 hotels in Alaska and Whitehorse, Yukon. He sold the company to Holland America in 1987.

Sheffield, a longtime Democrat, served as governor from 1982 to 1986. Friends credit his administration with a number of accomplishments, including completing the state takeover of the Alaska Railroad from the federal government, the management of state funding for a road and port system for the Red Dog mine in northwest Alaska, the appointment of more women to the bench than the previous governor, and the implementation establishment of a pay system for civil servants that contributed to pay equity for women.

Friends say Sheffield lost its re-election bid after cutting state budgets to deal with a slump in oil prices, and after a corruption probe where a criminal indictment and political impeachment were considered, but never materialized.

Memorial services will be announced at a later date.

Former Alaska Governor Bill Sheffield visits Alaska Public Media’s Elmo Sackett Studios in 2019. (Casey Grove/Alaska Public Media photo)

This is a developing story and will be updated.