Byron Mallott, the Alaska Native leader who served as lieutenant governor under former Gov. Bill Walker, has died unexpectedly at age 77.
Walker confirmed Mallott’s death in a phone interview Friday, saying he’d been in touch with Mallott’s family. The Anchorage Daily News reported that Mallott suffered a heart attack in Juneau late Thursday before being flown to Anchorage.
Mallott, a Democrat, and Walker, an independent, both ran for governor in 2014 before merging their campaigns. They went on to defeat the Republican incumbent.
“You don’t see that in partisan politics,” Walker said on Friday. “He loved Alaska much more than he loved politics.”
During their term in office, Walker and Mallott developed a close personal relationship.
Mallott resigned shortly before the 2018 election after making what Walker described at the time as inappropriate overtures to a woman. Walker suspended his reelection campaign shortly after.
Despite the way their campaign ended, Walker said he and Mallott remained close, regularly talking on the phone and having dinner with one another’s families.
He remembers Mallott as a tireless advocate for equality, justice and public safety in rural Alaska.
“After all he has done for Alaska, Alaska is a better place because of him,” Walker said.
Mallott was known as a skilled public speaker. Claire Richardson was Mallott’s chief of staff as lieutenant governor. Before his abrupt resignation, she said she was struck by his “uncanny ability to speak eloquently and passionately” without notes — she said it was like he had a teleprompter in his head. Mallott told her it came from overcoming a stutter during his childhood in boarding schools.
Richardson said she was impressed with his willingness to listen to Alaskans, even those that vehemently disagreed with him, and forge friendships. And his willingness to set aside personal interests for the state’s. Richardson said the circumstances of his resignation shouldn’t overshadow the rest of his life.
“He took immediate responsibility for his actions and did something that I’ve never seen a man in that situation do before, which is do the right thing and resign immediately,” Richardson said. “I think that that has a good lesson for women in Alaska, to know that there are men who make mistakes, and the ones who actually own up to it are the ones that I think we can look at and remember not just that moment, but the 50 years of public service and the good that he did for so many people.”
Mallott was Tlingit of the Raven moiety and a clan leader of the Kwaashk’i Ḵwáan. He was raised in the Southeast coastal community of Yakutat.
After serving as mayor of Yakutat as a young man, he went on to hold a number of high-profile positions in business and government throughout the state. He was president and CEO of Sealaska Corp., Southeast Alaska’s regional Native corporation, and served briefly as the mayor of Juneau before resigning in order to focus on his job as executive director of the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.
Marlene Johnson is a former chairman of Sealaska Corp. whose friendship with Mallott goes back nearly 60 years. Johnson fondly remembers working with him to convince federal leaders to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.
“He spent his whole life working for the people and for the state of Alaska,” Johnson said.
President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Richard Peterson said he was shocked to learn the news of Mallott’s death Friday. Peterson considered Mallott a friend and mentor from the time he himself was a young mayor in Kasaan.
“He could be a fierce, you know, fighter for what needed to be fought for, but at the same time, he could be that person that gave you the hug and encouraged you and uplifted you,” Peterson said.
Peterson said Mallott’s death will leave a tremendous void in the lives of those who knew and loved him, but his legacy of leadership will continue on.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Kevin Meyer expressed their condolences to Mallott’s family and friends Friday. The Governor ordered flags to be flown at half-staff for seven days in Mallott’s honor.
This story has been updated.
KTOO’s Jeremy Hsieh contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Mallott resigned as Juneau mayor to take a job at the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation. In fact, Mallott already worked there when he was elected mayor.