The week before I had met Wally, I had given a speech to a recently formed group, the Whittier Boat Owners Association. It had formed as a protest to the management policies of my predecessors at the harbor, and of the City of Whittier. They had a long series of complaints about the handling of the new harbor (it was constructed in 1973). The most recent problem, in their view, was a retroactive moorage fee increase that more than doubled the fee. The WBOA was suing the City of Whittier.
As soon as I began running the harbor, I consulted with the city's attorney and two other attorneys about the legality of the retroactive increase. I went into the old law library in the old state court house in Anchorage and read the case law. I decided the retroactive fee increase might be legal, might not. I also determined that if the harbor were managed better than had been the case, we didn't need the funds that had been taken retroactively - around $13,000.00. I recommended to the Whittier city manager that when I met with the WBOA, I announce a refund of the retroactive portion of the fee increase. He OK'd the move.
When I announced the refund and my hopes for major harbor expansion, along with some management reforms, I got a standing ovation from the WBOA. The following weekend, Trader Ed called me, saying "The Governor wants to meet you." He was on his boat.
After I climbed aboard with Trader Ed, I went through two layers of assistants before being introduced to "The Governor." Right off, he asked, "Young man, you didn't have to refund that money. Why did you?"
I told him "It's a goodwill gesture, governor. If the harbor can collect an honest fee for all our services, we can reduce our rates on several items. The harbor's unequal rates for different customers reflect poor management."
We discussed how a harbor expansion campaign might be run, and he advised me a bit on dealing with Chugach Electric, the Alaska Public Utilities Commission, the Alaska Railroad (then Federally-owned) and Gov. Jay Hammond's director of transportation, Bob Ward.
When we got to small talk, I told Wally how much I respected him for his letter to Richard Nixon, that had led to Nixon's dismissal of Hickel as Secretary of the Interior. Hickel observed that part of the reason that Nixon ended up resigning was that he listened to the wrong advice from the wrong people. The letter, according to Hickel, had been the result of Wally's discussions after the Kent State shootings, with his kids and some of their friends.
Hickel was also enthusiastic that I had read his book, Who Owns America? He spoke of a recent conversation he had had with French environmentalist, Jacques Cousteau, about new sources of energy, and about a study Hickel had participated in on geothermal energy.
I came out of this first meeting with "The Governor" with a very positive impression of "the little man." When it came to gaining allies and finding solutions during the battles from 1978 to 1981 to get the Whittier harbor expanded, Wally was very helpful. I campaigned for him in Anchorage, Girdwood and Whittier, during his 1978 write-in campaign.
I can still see Wally, the first person off of the Whittier shuttle railroad train on a Friday evening, quickly striding from train to dock to float to boat, followed by his retinue. On the boat and out on Prince William Sound, Hickel was always one of the most courteous and knowledgeable of local mariners. Several times over the years, he missed the last shuttle out on Sunday evening, as he helped tow some broken down boat in, or helped search for overdue kayakers.
I've got many Wally stories from the five years I ran the Whittier harbor, but I'll share just one more here. We were meeting with several other boatowners on the Ermalee, to discuss possible float configurations in the new harbor's design. A major concern among the boatowners with large yachts - over 42 feet long - was that Anchorage developer Pete Zamarello had ordered a new 48-foot long Tollycraft, the Papeca II, and was slated for a new, 48-foot long berth in the expanded harbor. Several large boat owners had already approached me, asking that they not be next to Pete in the expanded design. Joe Columbus, Dick Pittinger, Peter Kemp, Harold Wirum, Jim Dryden - and others. None wanted to be on the same float as Pete.
Wally turned to me dryly, and said, "I think Harold volunteers to be tied up next to Zamarello. Don't you, Harry?"
Wirum gulped, and said, "Uh, yeah, sure, Governor."
Rest in peace, Wally.