We lost an inspiring human being last month when Vic Fischer died on Oct. 22. He was an Alaska Constitutional Convention Delegate, a state legislator, a lifelong advocate for all Alaskans, and a friend and mentor to many people across the state and world.
He was born in Berlin and grew up in Moscow, witnessing, enduring, and fleeing the regimes of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin, two of the most murderous dictators in history. His Russian mother supported communism, but her hopes for her country were shattered by the totalitarian Stalin regime.
The Soviets refused to let Vic, his mother, and brother leave the Soviet Union, so his father, American journalist Louis Fischer, appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt. The 15-year-old Vic soon found himself eating dinner at the White House with his family and the President and First Lady.
I learned so much about Vic from the news, Alaska events and happenings, his memoir, and mostly by being blessed to know him through my work at Trustees. Vic emerged from a childhood of oppression and hardship with a whole and open heart.
He arrived in Alaska in 1950 and started advocating for statehood early on. His experience with brutal and oppressive governments certainly drove him to get involved, along with his profound desire to help build a governing system that respected individual freedoms, took care of people in need, and resisted discrimination and state violence.
Vic Fischer made it to 99 years old when he died at home with family and friends here in Alaska. He was larger than life and seemed that he could live forever.
He was one of the kindest and most intelligent people I have ever met. He had so much to say and share, yet he never dominated conversations. He sought out people, particularly those sitting alone or on the fringe of things, to find out more about them. He showed deep curiosity about other people’s lives, experiences, and ideas. He listened and he cheered people on. He offered a human and deeply genuine tonic to the divisiveness that often pervades politics.
That doesn’t mean he never had a bad word to say about anything. He had plenty of harsh words about policies, but ever about people. His friendships extended to folks across the political spectrum, and he modeled what compassionate and effective leadership and friendship look like. He gave his whole self to the values and issues he cared about, and spoke of them with care and intention.
Vic was a leading drafter of the Alaska Constitution and was most proud of Article I, section 1—Inherent Rights: “This Constitution is dedicated to the principles that all persons have a natural right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and the enjoyment of the rewards of their own industry; that all persons are equal and entitled to equal rights, opportunities, and protection under the law; and that all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the State.”
We have these important individual rights and freedoms, but we also have responsibilities to the people and state to reciprocate for them. That means caring for each other, showing compassion in our policies, and exercising our votes and voices to make communities and the state better.
In his memoir, “To Russia with Love: An Alaskan’s Journey,” he said one of his core values is that “people are more important than ideologies.”
He lived that value.
Vic was a plaintiff in the constitutional case Trustees brought against the state for not providing public notice and analysis of the impacts of the years of exploration activities for the proposed Pebble mine. As a drafter of the Alaska Constitution, Vic had first-hand knowledge of what the Natural Resources section, Article VIII, means. His co-plaintiffs were Nunamta Aulukestai, Bella Hammond (former Alaska First Lady), Violet Willson (Naknek), and Rick Delkittie, Jr. (Nondalton).
Vic picked me up from our downtown Trustees office in his red 1965 Mustang convertible on the day of his deposition. It was a beautiful day and we drove to the midtown offices of Pebble’s lawyers (they intervened in the lawsuit).
For four hours, Vic concisely explained the importance of Article VIII in our Constitution (the first in the U.S.) as well as how the unchecked history of extraction and exploitation of resources informed it—while always clearly delineating the framework and requirements of the constitution and its interplay with the executive, legislative, and judicial branches. He was a “preeminent constitutional scholar,” which he referred to himself as in the deposition—tongue-in-cheek.
The superior court ruled against us, and the state and Pebble sought nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees from our clients, even though the law provides protection for plaintiffs bringing constitutional challenges. This was scary for all of our clients. But Vic, with his calm assurance, said the case was right and he was confident and hopeful that the Alaska Supreme Court would see it our way.
When Vic backed you up with that confidence, you rose to meet the challenge. We prevailed on the merits and attorneys’ fees, establishing good law for Alaska. Whew!
Last weekend, I attended the celebration of life for Vic, a party with so many of his friends eating, drinking, and telling Vic Fischer stories. It was the party he wanted.
There were so many people there, many good and close friends of Vic and his wife Jane Angvik. I don’t know another couple with so many close relationships. The knowledge and history of Alaska held in that room was astounding.
I was talking with Bob Waldrop, a close friend of Vic and Jane and a past board member of Trustees. He asked, “What are we going to do with such a loss of leadership?” We pondered for a moment and decided we all need to ask ourselves, “What would Vic do?”
Fran Ulmer made the same statement in her remarks.
So, in this month of giving thanks, I offer my profound gratitude to Vic Fischer for giving so much of himself to Alaska communities and the world, for thinking about and doing what’s food for the future, and for giving us a mantra for doing what’s right with kindness and confidence—
“What would Vic do?”
Rest in power and peace, Vic.
PS. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue fighting to protect Alaska’s land, water, air, wildlife and people.