LISTEN: Katie Hurley remembered for charisma, energy and love for Alaska

Katie Hurley at a Portland, Oregon long-term-care facility, in her late 90s. Among many state government and political offices she held, Hurley was the head clerk at the Alaska Constitutional Convention. She died Feb. 21, 2021 at the age of 99. (Hurley family)

Alaskans are mourning the loss of one of the last remaining participants in the crafting of the state Constitution. Katie Hurley died Sunday, at the age of 99.

Hurley was a longtime assistant to territorial Governor Ernest Gruening, chief clerk at the Alaska Constitutional Convention, and a state legislator, among many other roles.

Hurley’s daughter, Susie Derrera, said her mother was principled and had a knack for taking on responsibility early in life — and her energy and charisma were on full display during her time working on Alaska’s foundational document.

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Gov. Mike Dunleavy has ordered state flags to be flown at half-staff March 30, in honor of what would’ve been Katie Hurley’s 100th birthday.

The transcript below has been edited for clarity.

Susie Derrera: She thought it the privilege of her lifetime to be the clerk of the Constitutional Convention. She wrote down every word every person said. She’d go home at night, and she typed up the transcript all night, and then have a couple hours of sleep and be right in there, right back, looking stylish. There she was, fresh as a daisy, ready to take down every word.

Casey Grove: It kind of strikes me that the job titles that she had maybe didn’t do it justice. That you would have this charismatic, enthusiastic, energetic person doing that real work — that would help quite a bit, to have that person in that role.

SD: Oh, sure. I mean, you know, probably, the people who really know everything and run everything are those women in those roles. I agree with you, that the job title or whatever it might be, doesn’t really do justice to what she was doing. I mean — doesn’t it sound like it was just so exciting? Knowing that you could change things. Like you just want to get up every day. And she was just around such fascinating, interesting people. People liked to be around her. She just had amazing energy.

CG: What was her perspective on how politics have changed? I know that’s over a long period of time, but how did she feel about that?

SD: Well, in the formation of Alaska, you know, people had to get along. And my parents’ friends were, you know, for both parties. And there was a lot of respect and friendship and laughter, and people just could have differences of opinion but still get along. And the constitution is made by people from both parties, and it’s a great constitution. She always brags that it’s the best one. And it was crafted by people from both parties, who disagreed and then came to compromise. So I do know she felt that way. And it’s sad to see that things have gone away from that. And, you know, Alaska. You’d have to get along. I mean, we still do some, you know, with the weather, and you just have to — we have to — help each other.

CG: One thing I’ve been asking just about everybody we’ve talked to in the last year is how they’ve been dealing with the pandemic. How was it for your mom? How was she dealing with it?

SD: Well, I would say that she probably dealt with it a lot lot better than most elderly people who are living away from home. She missed seeing us, but because of her dementia we’re not sure how much she knew really at all. I don’t think she really realized there was a pandemic. And that was because of the extraordinary care she got. The situation — we were really lucky. 

And not only did she not know about the pandemic but she didn’t know about the uprising at the Capitol Building, she didn’t know about Trump. We felt like, ‘Oh, what a blessing.’

CG: Yeah, you know, maybe it’s better to not have had to think about all that stuff. 

SD: Yes, we were actually really grateful for that, although we did have the caregiver play the inaugural so that she could see Kamala Harris.

CG: It sounded like you and your sister were able to visit with her quite a bit, or at least more here recently, right as things were kind of relaxing.

SD: Yes, we haven’t seen her in a year, and things in Oregon happened to relax the day before we got a call from her caregiver that she had taken a turn. So the caregiver allowed us to spend some time with her, and it was just such a gift. Most of the time we were together and having these special moments — I thought of the 500,000 people who died this year. And how many of them did not get to see or be with their loved ones. It just highlighted the misery of this year and the blessing it was that we got to be with her.

CG: The last thing I want to ask you: What do you want people to remember about your mom?

SD: Well, she stood up for the good. She was a great role model. In public life, she was incorruptible. She could not be corrupted. And I think that’s a rare thing. She was devoted to her friends. She was such a good friend, and I don’t know how she did it, because she had so many friends. She loved music and art and books and beauty, and she felt that, you know, all of us are equal under the sun, and should be afforded that respect, and opportunity. And people will always remember her smile.