Leaving a legacy: Family, friends remember Greg Fisk

Hundreds in Juneau attended the celebration of life for Juneau Mayor Greg Fisk on Sunday. Fisk died of natural causes on Nov. 30, less than two months after being elected mayor. He was 70 years old.

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Family, friends and community members spoke about Fisk and his many passions and accomplishments. He was a father, Native rights champion, fisheries consultant, mayor and a proud Juneau resident.

Many signed the guest book at the celebration of life for Greg Fisk on Sunday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Many signed the guest book at the celebration of life for Greg Fisk on Sunday. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

When Greg Fisk was campaigning for mayor, he said he wanted to make Juneau “one of the great small cities in the country.”

“And I believe that if he had lived, by the end of his term as mayor we would be noticeably, demonstrably closer to that place,” said Ken Alper, one of Fisk’s good friends in Juneau. “He really believed that Juneau could diversify our economy and rebuild our downtown and control our destiny. He didn’t fear change or growth. He welcomed them. He wanted to turn Juneau into a place people were clamoring to come.”

Alper met Fisk about 13 years ago when they both worked for the state – Alper at Fish and Game, Fisk at Commerce as a fisheries development specialist.

Around 400 people attended the celebration of life for Mayor Greg Fisk, including Gov. Bill Walker, First Lady Donna Walker, Juneau state lawmakers and Juneau Assembly members. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)
Around 400 people attended the celebration of life for Mayor Greg Fisk, including Gov. Bill Walker, First Lady Donna Walker, Juneau state lawmakers and Juneau Assembly members. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)

“Talking with Greg, you learned it’s not just about how the fishery is structured and the history, but also what it could be, how we as Alaskans were blessed with this unbelievable resource that he knew could be so much more. He understood that, even more than oil, fish is what motivated the generation before his to fight for statehood,” Alper said.

Alper and others who spoke at the celebration of life were flanked by three flags – an Alaska flag, a U.S. flag and a Canadian flag.

Fisk was born Sept. 26, 1945 in Montréal, Quebec. He spent most of his early childhood in Washington, D.C. His father was in the Air Force and the family moved to Alaska the year of statehood. Fisk graduated from West Anchorage High School a state champion in swimming.

After studying geography at Indiana University, Fisk worked with the Arctic Slope Regional Corp. and surrounding village corporations to select lands during the early days of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.

That experience set the stage for his work in Montreal with the Northern Québec Inuit in the 1970s. He was the senior negotiator on Canada’s first aboriginal land claims settlement since the 1920s.

Sealaska Corp. President and CEO Anthony Mallott said Fisk shared common priorities with Native people.

“I’ve heard from individuals in the Native community that when they worked with Greg, he had this certain presence. When he was in meetings, that presence was felt. It was a presence built on knowledge, experience and on dignity. And that presence gave the people that he was working with, the organizations he worked with comfort that this was an individual that could move them forward,” Mallott said.

Fisk’s son Ian Fisk said his father loved hiking the Juneau Ridge and the views of Mendenhall Towers from Auke Lake. He loved rock and roll, classical music and the comedy of George Carlin. Over games of cribbage, Ian Fisk and his dad often spoke about the fishing industry.

“He loved everything about it. He loved the sweep of a boat’s sheer line and he appreciated the aesthetics of the industry. He appreciated the machinery and all of the people that make it possible,” he said.

Ian Fisk said his dad was once referred to as his own think tank. His father always had ideas and his sights set on a better future, a better Juneau.

“But he was very aware of the things that no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t improve on, like the Northern Lights and the fog coming up the channel on a nice, clear Sunday morning,” Ian Fisk said.

His father instilled in him the importance of leaving behind a legacy.

“What we leave behind is all we leave behind, at least in our world view. That’s the way my grandfather raised my father and the way he raised me, and so it’s critical that we leave something good behind and I know for sure my dad did. He always said, ‘You got one life to live son, you better make it a damn good one.’ And he sure did,” Ian Fisk said.

Greg Fisk’s legacy continues to live on across the state and in Canada. Ian Fisk said his father left the world on top of a big wave – a happy and loved man.