Legislators and other guests view a newly unveiled portrait of the late Congressman Don Young on Monday, the second anniversary of his death, to be in the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Legislators and other guests view a newly unveiled portrait of the late Congressman Don Young on Monday, the second anniversary of his death, to be in the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Portrait of Don Young for Alaska State Capitol unveiled on second anniversary of his death

Painting of late Congressman who served nearly 50 years will be on second floor near House Chambers.

A portrait of the late Congressman Don Young to be hung in the Alaska State Capitol was unveiled on Monday, the second anniversary of his death, in a ceremony featuring the artist, members of Young’s family and a packed room of politicians.

The painting, to be hung on the second floor of the Capitol near a portrait of the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens, was done by longtime friend Buster Griggs. Young’s wife, Anne, offered thanks to those who sponsored the portrait and attended Monday’s ceremony to pay tribute to her husband who served 49 years in Congress before his death at the age of 88 while the couple was traveling home to Fort Yukon.

“The idea that we’re all here together and that you are supporting us, I can’t begin to tell you how much that means,” she said. “It would have been a terrible day alone. But it’s a wonderful day with you all here.”

Anne Young, wife of the late Congressman Don Young, offers thanks for a portrait painted by Buster Griggs (right) during an unveiling ceremony Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

Anne Young, wife of the late Congressman Don Young, offers thanks for a portrait painted by Buster Griggs (right) during an unveiling ceremony Monday at the Alaska State Capitol. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)

She said her husband and Griggs — who began painting commercially as a teenager, years before Young was first elected to Congress in 1973 — talked several years ago about the possibility of a portrait. But she said “we never even remotely had the idea of doing it under the circumstances or for this occasion.”

“I can’t even imagine how difficult that must have been for him, when it’s someone you really care about and you’re having to do such a meaningful portrait,” she said. “I think Mr. Griggs went through his own emotional difficulties doing that, but he decided to do it.”

Griggs said he first met Young “eons” ago when the painter was invited by his next-door neighbor, former state Rep. Mike Hawker, to a reception.

“Don Young comes strolling in and Mike says ‘You know Buster Griggs, dontcha?’” Griggs said. The congressman responded “‘Oh yeah, mister, how ya doing?’ And I knew he and I were going to hit it off. He was just as full of it as well. And so we became good friends.”

Young, who became the longest-serving Republican in the House of Representatives in 2019, was described over the years as notoriously colorful and blunt. Griggs, in one of the lighter moments of Monday’s ceremony, said that made the idea of painting a portrait of the congressman a challenge.

“It’s always better for an artist to have the subject sit for you,” he said. Looking at one of Young’s daughters, he added “Joni, can you imagine your dad sitting still long enough?”

On a more serious note, Griggs said “this was very difficult because after I got it laid out there was Don staring back at me and so it’s quite emotional.”

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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