Former Alaska governor Bill Sheffield talks life, time in office and new book

Former governor donates memoir to Alaska State Library, Archives and Museum

Alaska’s fifth governor has his first memoir.

Former Gov. Bill Sheffield, 90, has a new book, “Bill Sheffield: A Memoir, From the Great Depression to the Governor’s Mansion and Beyond.” He donated copies to the State Museum, Library and Archives Thursday and held a signing for the book 5:30-7 p.m. Friday at the downtown Hearthside Books.

“There’s a lot of stories in this book,” Sheffield said.

That’s because Sheffield’s life story is a long and eclectic one.

He grew up as the son of a farmer in the Great Depression, made his way to Alaska in 1953 to start a TV sales and repair shop for SearsRoebuck, founded Sheffield Enterprise in 1960 and owned or managed more than a dozen hotels and, of course, was governor from 1982-1986.

The donated books were signed to all Alaskans and were joined by a donation of 2 cubic feet of records from his administration. That supplements 126 cubic feet of materials previously given.

“This is really exciting for us as a division,” said Addison Field, chief curator for the Alaska State Museum. “The governor is bringing a large collection of material that will go to the library, the archives and the museum.”

More materials will be donated to the facility someday,

“When I die, I’m going to send another load of stuff your way,” Sheffield said.

However, he was amiable, talkative and said he felt well while discussing his book.

“I don’t feel any different than I did at 80,” Sheffield said. “A little more wobbly I suppose.”

After signing his book and signing some documents for the State Museum, Library and Archives, Sheffield spoke to the Capital City Weekly about the new book and its contents.

Q: What made you want to put out this memoir now?

A: I’ve been thinking about doing it for 10 years and working a lot on it every once in awhile. I’ve had a good life and done a lot of things in Alaska, and I’m lucky to be here.

Q: Do you have a favorite story from the memoir?

A: There’s so many. I talk about the earthquake in Alaska, a long time ago, in Anchorage, and the effect it had on some of the other communities and the tsunami. I was in the earthquake, all 5 ½ minutes of it, laying on the sidewalk in front of my hotel. It was a 15-story building, and I thought it was going down for sure, but it didn’t.

Q: What do you hope people take away from the book?

A: If young people read my book, in Alaska, and the United States, but particularly in Alaska, you can do almost anything that you want to do. Whatever you want to be.

Q: Do you have a favorite accomplishment from your time as governor?

A: I got the budget put in place properly, and we weren’t wasting money. I bought the Alaska Railroad from the federal government, I started the Red Dog mine up in the NANA region. I think I’m most proud of them.

Q: What do you think of the state of things? Anyone who saw the world in 1928 and has seen it today is going to notice some changes.

A: Well, we don’t have the caliber of legislators we used to have. I’m still friends with the person I beat. That was Tom Fink, and I just visited with him and his family the other day at our old duck shack, so we’ve been friends all these years. That doesn’t happen anymore. You can’t do it alone, you’ve got to do it together, so that’s a problem. We need a governor that’s going to have some friends in the legislature and a plan for what we want to be when we grow up here.


• Contact CCW reporter Ben Hohenstatt at 523-2243.


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