ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Former Alaska Gov. Walter J. Hickel, who served as Interior secretary under President Richard Nixon until he was dismissed for objecting to the treatment of Vietnam War protesters, has died at age 90.
The two-time Alaska governor died Friday of natural causes at an Anchorage assisted living facility.
Gov. Sean Parnell ordered state flags flown at half-staff Saturday in honor of his predecessor.
“He taught us to dream big and to stand up for Alaska,” Parnell said. “Gov. Hickel will be remembered for many things – for his wit, for telling it like it is, and for always reminding us that our resources belong to Alaskans.”
Hickel’s was a quintessential Alaska rags-to-riches story. Born in Kansas, he arrived nearly penniless in the small city of Anchorage in 1940, taking advantage of the city’s rapid growth following World War II to build a multimillion-dollar construction and real-estate fortune.
Hickel had never held elected office when he upset two-term Democratic Gov. William Egan in 1966.
Hickel resigned in 1969 to become Interior secretary and quickly made national headlines as the environmental movement began to take root in America.
Hickel imposed stringent cleanup regulations on oil companies and water polluters after an oil rig explosion off the coast of Santa Barbara, Calif. He also fought to save the Everglades from being destroyed by developers and advocated for making Earth Day a national holiday.
Hickel was fired from his Interior post in late 1970 after sending Nixon a letter critical of the president’s handling of student protests following the National Guard shootings at Kent State and the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.
He never quite got out of politics. In 1990, at age 71 and after several unsuccessful gubernatorial bids, Hickel won the job a second time.
But his four years as governor were marked by frequent run-ins with legislators put off by his sometimes autocratic style and with environmentalists critical of his unabashed support for natural resource development. Hickel chose to not run for re-election in 1994.