Tuesday, August 10, 2010

RIP, Ted Stevens


Officials have confirmed that former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens (R.-Alaska) has died in a plane crash in southwest Alaska that has killed four other people and left four more injured.

I have written at great length on this blog about Ted Stevens’ life and career as well as the criminal charges he faced in 2008 and 2009. Tributes, memorials, and critiques are all over the media today as well as expressions of condolences and sympathies for the dead, the injured, and their loved ones. I’ll confine myself this afternoon to a couple of observations about the way Ted Stevens died and some things we could do today in line with the way he lived his 86 years:

1. It’s terribly ironic that Ted Stevens died flying. He obviously relished flying as a military pilot in World War II and as an avid recreational pilot during his years in Alaska. (Those years in the Great Land began when he and his first wife Ann arrived in Fairbanks in 1953, not 1950 as I mistakenly wrote this morning.)

Ted Stevens also had to fly a great deal as a passenger during his 40 years serving as one of Alaska’s two U.S. Senators. Stevens made the more than 6,000-mile round trip between Anchorage and Washington, D.C. hundreds of times during those four decades. He flew extensively around the Great Land on trips to campaign and work as a Senator, and he jetted around the world to fulfill his Congressional duties.

Stevens worked hard in the Senate to improve Alaska aviation, and the state’s largest airport is named after him.

Alaska aviation needs a lot of improvement, because flying in the Last Frontier is uniquely hazardous. Alaska has a lot of land, and most places have no road to them. Often the planes are small, the flights are unscheduled, the aids to navigation are rare, the weather is bad, the terrain is harsh and remote, and the distances are long from point to point. Flying in Alaska can sometimes seem like dicing with death, and Stevens had seen the numbers fall the wrong way before. Stevens’ first wife Ann died in a plane crash in Anchorage in 1978 that killed four other people and left him seriously injured and one of only two survivors. Even before that tragedy three decades ago at the airport that would later be named after him, he had reportedly said that he had a premonition that he would die in a plane crash.

2. Let’s focus today on some of the positive and practical lessons of Ted Stevens’ life. The “Alaskan of the Century” and longest serving Republican Senator ever was a giant of the Last Frontier and the U.S. Senate, but his life as a man can also teach us. Any fair account of Ted Stevens’ life has to address the mistakes he made that contributed to the prosecution that produced seven jury verdicts of guilty against him in 2008 before that prosecution blew up the next year due to acknowledged misconduct by government lawyers. But today, let’s think of the simpler things that this man learned during his long life and tried to tell others. Love your family, and do your best to spend as much time as you can with them. Exercise—it will improve your mind as well as your body. Work hard, and study enough to learn what you need to know in order to do your job.

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