A giant figure in Alaska history has passed. Former state lawmaker Jack Coghill died this morning at the age of 93. His son, state Senator 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. But, y’know, you’re never ready for somebody to leave you,”” John Coghill said.
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, before being elected as a delegate to the Alaska Constitutional Convention. The 55 delegates wrote the Alaska Constitution during the 1956 convention held at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. And Coghill was the third delegate to sign the document.
Coghill’s passing leaves only one surviving delegate, former state Senator Vic Fischer, who also served in the territorial Legislature.
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 a 2017 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,” Jack Coghill 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,” John Coghill said.
Arrangements for memorial services and interment were still pending as of this afternoon.