Judge Roy Madsen passed away earlier this week at his home in Kodiak. The first Alaska Native to become a Superior Court Judge and was a pillar of the community who helped make history throughout his 94 years.
“The thing that is foremost in my memory is Roy’s smile and the sparkle in his eyes.”
“Even into his nineties, his voice was strong and beautiful.”
“He was the heartbeat of the community. ”
“Roy is tough to describe because he sounds too good to be true.”
Judge Roy Madsen left an impression on those who knew him. He was born in 1923 in Kanatak, a village on the Alaska Peninsula. Around age four, Roy began his love affair with Kodiak when his family moved to the archipelago.
“He told me once that he was really never happier than when he was at home in Kodiak just breathing in the air.”
Marla Williams recently directed a documentary on Madsen’s life. It’s part of the series Magnetic North: The Alaska Character. To show Madsen’s special relationship with nature, Williams opens her film with him looking up and admiring the old trees in Kodiak’s Abercrombie State Park.
“There are so few people remaining of my age and my generation,” Madsen said. “So I like to come out here and just look at the trees that’s old or older than I am and say something has lived beyond and is still standing.”
Madsen had a lot of different jobs before his career in law. He worked at his father’s hunting camp, scraping flesh off bear skulls. He served in the Navy on a Patrol Torpedo boat in WWII. He worked as a commercial fisherman in Bristol Bay. And became a certified bear guide.
Kodiak’s current Superior Court Judge Steve Cole believes it was Madsen’s diverse work history and background that made him so good on the bench.
“He used his experiences living in this community to draw on as a way of communicating with people and understanding their particular plight.”
Madsen became a Superior Court Judge in 1975. He was the first Alaskan Native to become a Superior Court Judge. Madsen served 15 years on the bench and retired in 1990.
Madsen had the reputation of being a fair and honorable judge. Cole says even if you left the courtroom on the wrong side of one of his decisions, you felt like your argument had been legitimately considered.
April Laktonen-Counceller is the executive director of the Alutiiq Museum in Kodiak. She says Madsen was a good example of how to live a good Alutiiq life.
“He was really inspired by his heritage, but he always kept a forward-looking perspective and he wasn’t afraid to get involved in worlds that Alutiiq people hadn’t been involved in in the past,” Laktonen-Counceller said.
Throughout his 94 years, Madsen helped shape the Kodiak region and Alaska. He was among those who worked to pass the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and form the Kodiak Area Native Association. Madsen was also a part of the rebuilding of Kodiak after the 1964 tsunami.
“Every once in awhile in your life you meet someone who’s almost bigger than life, you can feel it with them,” Larry Van Daele said. “And that’s what a lot of people felt when they were around Roy.”
Van Daele says he and Madsen were friends for decades. If he had to use one word to describe Madsen, Van Daele says he’d use honor, which is a word that comes up a lot when talking about the Judge.
In the later years of his life, Madsen got to see many of his accomplishment acknowledged. The Kodiak courthouse was named the Roy H. Madsen Justice Center. He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska Anchorage. And the documentary made about his life premiered in Kodiak earlier this year.
One of the most touching moments in the film is a conversation between Madsen and his wife Linda as they talk about their relationship and the future.
“So at this point in our lives, we talk about what will be on headstones for this person or that perso,” Linda Madsen said. “And one, of course, was ‘he who clings to the rock’ but I think a simple one would also just be ‘Roy Harding Madson, he loved and served.”
Judge Roy Harding Madsen was 94 when he passed away. He’s survived by his wife Linda Madsen, his children, and many grandchildren.