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Jack Coghill Dies at 93: Pioneer, Lawmaker, Constitutional Framer Shaped Alaska History

KUAC file photo

A giant figure in Alaska history has passed. Former state lawmaker Jack Coghill died Wednesday morning at the age of 93.

Jack Coghill’s son, state Sen. John Coghill, says his dad died peacefully at the younger Coghill’s home in North Pole after months of declining health.

“This is not a big shocker,” JohnCoghill said Wednesday afternoon. “But, y’know, you’re never ready for somebody to leave you.”

Jack Coghill was born in Fairbanks in 1925, when Alaska was still a territory. He served a tour of duty during World War II, then settled in Nenana to help his father run the Coghill General Store, which the family still operates.

Coghill was elected to the territorial House in 1952 and again in 1956, the same year he was elected as a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention. The 55 delegates wrote the Alaska Constitution during the convention held at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. And Coghill was the third delegate to sign the document.

His passing leaves only one surviving delegate, former state Senator Vic Fischer, who also served in the territorial Legislature.

Credit KUAC file photo
Coghill represented his hometown of Nenana and much of Interior Alaska in the Territorial and state Legislatures, beginning in the 1950s.

Coghill ran unopposed for a seat in the state House in 1960, after Alaska achieved statehood. He took a few years’ hiatus before resuming his political career in 1984, when he was elected to the state Senate. In 1990, the lifelong Republican quit the party to run for lieutenant governor on the Alaska Independence Party ticket headed by Wally Hickel.

Coghill said in a2017 interview that his most noteworthy political achievement was upholding the important role of the minority party. That was the Republican Party during those days of Democratic political dominance in Alaska.

“I think the most important thing that I did was that I was always making sure that the minority had a chance to tell you what they had to say,” he said. “I’d say ‘Let them talk! Let them do their thing!’ ”

John Coghill was on a trip to Cordova when his father passed away. While waiting for a flight back to Fairbanks, he said he’s still trying to figure out how to best give tribute to his father.

“So I will be pondering how to honor him the best I know how, with some of the good history and some of (his) outstanding contributions – things like that,” he said.

Arrangements for memorial services and interment were still pending as of Wednesday afternoon.

Tim has worked in the news business for over three decades, mainly as a newspaper reporter and editor in southern Arizona. Tim first came to Alaska with his family in 1967, and grew up in Delta Junction before emigrating to the Lower 48 in 1977 to get a college education and see the world.