Today, we celebrate the life of Romana “Gail” Phillips. Gail fought courageously but lost her ultimate re-election to the rigors of cancer on March 25, 2021. She passed peacefully surrounded by family, friends, and messages of love from around the world. Her passing will leave a void in our lives.
Born May 15, 1944 to Lois and Wallace McIver in Juneau, AK. Gail grew up with her six sisters and her parents in Council and later Nome, AK. As the oldest of the seven girls, Gail was the matriarch and a natural leader, though her sisters called it bossy. Gail thrived in competition from high school carnival queen to sports and politics. She attended her first statewide political convention while a Junior in high school. At 14, Gail went to work as a clerk in the local drugstore. Her early years, she would spend her summers in Council at the mining camp owned by her father and grandfather.
Gail really started her political involvement in college with the Young Republicans working on the Presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. Gail graduated from UAF with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Education and later returned to Nome to teach in her home community. She met her husband at the UAF and Walt proposed on Valentine’s day in 1965. On August 14, 1965, they were married in a double ceremony with Gail’s sister, Barbie, and husband Stan Lindskoog. Gail’s grandfather, the Reverend Ludvig Ost, performed the ceremony in Nome.
Gail worked her way through college as a ticket agent in Nome for Wein and Alaska Airlines. Later, she became office manager for Munz Northern Airlines. Following a year as a high school business teacher, Gail joined Western Airlines in Anchorage as a ticket agent and reservation clerk. She later returned to Wein and worked for the president before taking a position of station manager for Homer operations.
From 1974 on Gail worked with Joe Reddington to spread the word about a new sled dog race across Alaska. She was a true trail blazer; appointed to the Board and served as secretary for the Iditarod Trail Committee. As Race Coordinator from 1976 through 1979, she was the last person to hold that position on a total volunteer basis. More recently, as a member of “The Old Iditarod Gang,” she helped write and publish “Iditarod – the First Ten Years,” an epic account of the race’s early years.
Gail and Walt lived in Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage and a brief stint in Houston, Texas. Gail’s daughters Robin and Kim were raised in Anchorage and in 1978, the young family moved to Homer. Gail and Walt owned Quiet Sports, an outdoor sporting goods shop. She was ever practical in business and even won an award as the top snowshoe seller in the world for Sherpa shoes. On Christmas eve, she would open her store to all the men in town who had delayed their Christmas shopping. Her store was filled with holiday music and tasty treats and she would gift wrap all their perfect purchases.
In the early ‘80s, Gail returned to her mining roots as co-owner/operator and logistic coordinator for a family-owned, mid-sized placer mine on the Seward Peninsula. With her sister Barbie and brother-in-law Stan, husband Walt and a crew of teenage girls, they successfully worked on the Goose Creek mine, in what she referred to as a “Grand Adventure.”
In 1981, she was elected to the Homer City Council and this started her illustrious career in political leadership. In 1986, she was appointed to the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly and later re-elected to represent Homer. She worked for two years for Senate President Tim Kelly before being elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1991. She was sworn into the 25th State legislature, following in the footsteps of her Grandfather who was in the 25th Alaska Territorial legislature.
In 1993, Gail became House Majority Leader. In 1995 Gail was honored to become only the second female to hold the position of Speaker of the House for the State of Alaska. She held this position for four years. This time was incredibly empowering and inspiring to young Alaskan women, with Gail as Speaker, Drue Pearce as Senate President and Fran Ulmer as Lt. Governor.
In 2003, she served as Special Assistant to Governor Murkowski. She also served as Executive Director, Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, from 2003-2006. In 2006 she was Industry Liaison, Dept. of Labor – Business Partnerships and from 2004-2006 she was chairperson for the Alaska 50th Anniversary celebration commission.
Gail served on a great number of boards throughout her life, many with the University of Alaska and the Alaska Aviation Museum. She was often involved in Resource and Development causes and advisory boards. Gail had a true passion for responsible natural resource development, politics and serving Alaska.
Her devotion to faith started as a youngster with her grandfather. She was a Sunday school teacher and later a member of the Homer United Methodist Church where she served on the Board of Trustees.
Gail was proceeded in death by her parents.
She is survived by Walt, her husband of 56 years; her daughters, Robin Phillips and Kim Griffith and grandsons Scott and Jace Griffith; her sisters, Barbie and husband Stan Lindskoog and their children Wendy and Joan; Kay and husband Jim Hansen and their children Erin, Heidi and Peter; Jan and husband El Slaughter and daughter Elin; Cheryl and husband John Cappelletti and daughter Monica; Susan and husband Darryl Sele and their children Marshal, Mac and Stefan; Karen Lipari and her children, Philip, Matt and Daniel; along with numerous grand nieces, grand nephews, cousins and friends.
Condolences can be sent to 1136 Northpointe Bluff Drive, Anchorage, AK 99501. In lieu of flowers, donations can be directed to a UAF scholarship fund that is being established. A Celebration of Life will be held June 3. More information to come.
In the words of Joe Hayes, friend and former Alaska legislator: “I learned so much from you Madam Speaker over the years and I just want to say thank you. I will miss your ability to work in a bi-partisan fashion to do the right thing for subsistence when the head winds were so strong against it. You were a leader willing to be a stateswoman first and not a politician, even if it cost you later in your career. As I look at politics today, I miss when the parties were less tribal, more civil and looking out for the interest of all. Madam Speaker. You have earned the right to gavel out sine die for a final time as you have left a legacy that will be hard to replace. (pounding the desk) for you. Rest now and know you leave an incredible legacy in your wake. Until we meet again.”