‘Giant of history’ Ermalee Hickel dies at 92

Alaska first lady Donna Walker, left, and her husband, Alaska Gov. Bill Walker, pose with former Alaska first lady Ermalee Hickel during a fundraiser at Hickel's home in West Anchorage. (Photo courtesy Office of the Governor)
Alaska first lady Donna Walker, left, and her husband, Gov. Bill Walker, pose with former Alaska first lady Ermalee Hickel during a fundraiser at Hickel’s home in West Anchorage. (Photo courtesy the Walker family)

Updated | 5:07 p.m.

Ermalee Hickel, the wife of former Governor Wally Hickel, died yesterday. Though her husband’s outsized personality may have overshadowed her at times those who knew her say she was a strong woman of faith and family.

One of those remembering her today is Haines writer Heather Lende. She said she first met Mrs. Hickel at the Governor’s mansion many years ago. Lende showed up early for an event, and though they didn’t know each other, Ermalee answered the door.

“She invited me in! I was so surprised that the First Lady was opening the door and then she said, oh, come on in and she had me help her set up for the party,” Lende said. “We were putting out little dishes of nuts and little trays for the drinks and all that kind of stuff. She was so gracious, it was like going to your grandmother’s house.”

They got to know each other better when Lende started writing a column for the Anchorage Daily News and Ermalee would send her notes.

“Like, actual notes, like bread and butter, on her stationary notes after columns that she liked or knew someone in or had a comment on,” Lende said.

Lende said Ermalee was motherly but in a formal type of way.

“Ermalee always reminded me of what I thought the Queen Mother was like, she wore those hats and matching purse and handbag and she was disarming, in that on the one hand she was very formal and very well dressed and would have been slightly intimidating except that she was so frank and so friendly,” Lende said.

Lende said she thinks Ermalee helped her husband in his work because she had a spine of steel.

“She must have been a tremendous asset to the governor in terms of his career and I would guess that much of his success was due to Ermalee having his back,” Lende said.

Ermalee Hickel was 92 when she died yesterday in Anchorage. Governor Walker ordered all Alaska flags to be lowered to half-staff. The flags should return to full staff at sunrise on Tuesday.

— Lori Townsend

Original story | 12:10 p.m. Friday

‘Giant of history’ Ermalee Hickel dies at 92

Former Alaska first lady Ermalee Hickel, 92, died Thursday. She was married to former Gov. Wally Hickel for 65 years until he passed away in 2010.

Gov. Bill Walker said in a news release that Alaskans are in “mourning over the loss of a truly phenomenal woman.” He called her a “giant of history.”

Walker ordered all Alaska flags to be lowered to half-staff. The flags should return to full staff Tuesday.

Wally Hickel was the second governor of Alaska, serving from 1966 until 1969, when he resigned his post upon his confirmation as Interior Secretary in President Richard Nixon’s Cabinet. He served a second term as governor from 1990-1994.

— Tripp J Crouse

Correction: An earlier version of this story credited the wrong party for the photo. The photo was provided by the Walker family, not the Office of the Governor.

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