Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
In this April 11, 2018 photo state Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, walks out of the Senate chambers and to a reception to honor him and Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, at the Capitol. Both were retiring from the legislature.

Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File In this April 11, 2018 photo state Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, walks out of the Senate chambers and to a reception to honor him and Sen. Berta Gardner, D-Anchorage, at the Capitol. Both were retiring from the legislature.

Dennis Egan, former state lawmaker and Juneau mayor, dies

He fought hard to keep the capital in Juneau

Dennis Egan, former broadcaster, Juneau mayor, state senator and longtime proponent of keeping the capital of Alaska anchored in Juneau, died Tuesday morning.

Egan, 75, son of the first governor of the newly formed state, Bill Egan, was living in Salem, Oregon, at the time of his death.

“Dennis Egan was a huge part of Juneau. He’s going to be sorely missed. He’s been a radio personality and a business owner,” said Max Mertz, who worked closely with Egan as part of the Alaska Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to maintaining Juneau as Alaska’s capital. “He’s continued to stay active. He’s a valued community member. It’s a huge loss.”

Egan may have been living in Oregon, but his heart was in Juneau, said Bruce Botelho, who both preceded and followed Egan as mayor and was still in good touch with him.

“I had a chance to visit with Dennis in Salem two weeks ago. He had been in Salem for some time in assisted living, always with the expectation he’d return to Juneau at some point,” Botelho said. “He loved Juneau as a community. It is and always was his home.”

Egan was a standard-bearer in the fight to keep the capital in Juneau, and was as effective as possible, Botelho said.

“His abiding concern was doing everything one could to reach out to Alaskans around the state to support Juneau as the capital,” Botelho said.

Egan inherited that fight from his father in some ways, Mertz said, fighting against the movement to shift capital-related jobs and assets to Anchorage and elsewhere, including helping to form the Alaska Committee in 1995.

“It’s a lifelong fight. His dad of course was a proponent of keeping the capital here,” Mertz said. “He took it very seriously and he’s been super effective.”

Egan kept current with events in Juneau even after moving to Salem, Botelho said, often being better informed about events in Juneau than people who remained in the city. Mayor Beth Weldon said he was sharp, contributing ideas even into his later years.

“He exemplified public service both in Juneau and the state. It’s a great loss and a great man that was sharp as a tack probably up until the day he died,” Weldon said. “It’s a great example for anyone who wants to run for public office.”

In this May 31, 2018 photo Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, speaks to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge. (Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire File)

In this May 31, 2018 photo Sen. Dennis Egan, D-Juneau, speaks to the Greater Juneau Chamber of Commerce during its weekly luncheon at the Moose Lodge. (Michael Penn/ Juneau Empire File)

A chorus of remembrance

Many other elected officials spoke up in memory of Egan, who served first on the Assembly of the City and Borough of Juneau, then as mayor of Juneau, and finally as a senator in the Alaska State Legislature until 2018.

“Dennis was larger than life. He charmed just about everyone he ever met. I once watched him tell a lobbyist there was no way he’d ever vote for a bill, and the guy still left with a smile on his face,” said Sen. Jesse Kiehl, D-Juneau, in a news release. “Dennis always listened to his community, was a straight shooter, and truly respected the people around him. Alaska was his home, he put Alaskans first, and his heart belonged to Juneau.”

Egan had a talent for working with people and finding common ground, Botelho said.

“His father was renowned for never forgetting a name. Dennis, I would say, had a similar gift, in the sense that he never met anyone who didn’t ultimately like him, who would not eventually find common ground even if they disagreed on specific issues,” Botelho said. “He was a consummate human being as well as a consummate politician.”

Egan was also heavily involved in local radio, including being named to the Alaska Broadcaster Association’s Hall of Fame and running the program Problem Corner for many years.

This photo from the Alaska Digital Archives shows a young Dennis Egan as well as Neva Egan and then Gov. William Egan. (Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

This photo from the Alaska Digital Archives shows a young Dennis Egan as well as Neva Egan and then Gov. William Egan. (Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks)

“I had the pleasure of working with Senator Dennis Egan during my time on the Juneau School Board,” said state Rep. Andi Story, D-Juneau. “He was always welcoming and liked nothing better than to hear from Juneau students when they visited him at the Capitol. Dennis was a strong supporter of education and other statewide issues that affected families. He will be missed, and I am thinking of his family and friends today.”

Others praised Egan in warm tones, remembering his personality.

“Everybody loved Dennis, and I mean everybody,” said state Rep. Bryce Edgmon, I-Dillingham, in a statement. “He was a direct link to Alaska history, and the best curmudgeon around.”

That link, that legacy of family service will be missed, said others.

“From his childhood watching his father advocate for statehood, to his storied career in politics fighting for his beloved Alaska, Dennis embodied public service,” said state Rep. Sara Hannan, D-Juneau, in a statement. “He will be missed by friends, family, and many across Alaska.”

State Senate Minority Leader Tom Begich, D-Anchorage; state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage; and House Speaker Louise Stutes, R-Kodiak; also released statements remembering Egan.

“My heart goes out to Linda, Jill and Leslie, and the whole family,” Kiehl said. “Alaska lost a giant today, but every Alaskan can be proud of Dennis’ dedication to our state and our capital city.”

Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at (757) 621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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