Friends, family reflect on life and legacy of Jack Roderick

The former Anchorage Borough mayor died at the age of 94
Published: Oct. 27, 2020 at 5:58 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Former Anchorage Borough Mayor Jack Roderick died in mid-October at the age of 94, but his close friends and family say he leaves behind a legacy that is alive and well, including a dedicated commitment to democracy dedicated in his final wish to vote in this year’s General Election.

“He was just a wonderful guy, very humble,” said John McKay, a good friend of Roderick’s who had a big hand in making the vote possible. “He always made you feel like you were telling him something he didn’t know. Of course, he’d been around forever, and knew very well.”

Roderick, the first mayor of the then-Anchorage Borough in the early 1970s, was known for his activism both within and outside of Alaska, particularly in uniting people for a common cause. Two of his best known from his stint as mayor include creating the city’s bus system and championing the preservation of Anchorage’s trail system.

“He brought all kinds of warring parties together,” said Jane Angvik, who worked under Roderick when he was mayor and since became good friends with him. “He brought all kinds of people together, from different points of view, made them come together, and figure out a way to resolve a conflict.”

Even after his passing, family and friends - such as Angvik and McKay - are keeping up part of Roderick’s weekly tradition of meeting up with people to talk about the world and just about everything going on in it.

“He welcomed everyone he ever met,” said his daughter, Libby Roderick. “He was genuinely, deeply interested in them. They felt instantly part of his circle."

Roderick’s legacy might be highlighted for most by his leadership in Anchorage, but his mission stretched well beyond state lines: Born in Seattle, his life was full of twists, turns, and travels, with overseas stints as part of his service in World War II and during his time as a Peace Corps director in India; cross-country undertakings, including degrees from Yale, the University of Washington and Harvard; and of course, woven throughout, his decades-long mission to improve life in Alaska.

“If he thought truth and justice were over here, and things were going the other way,” Angvik said, “he would be a very tenacious fighter on behalf of that. His legacy for Anchorage is making it a more livable community, and a place that is open to all kinds of ideas."

The nonagenarian also held prominent roles with the Department of Natural Resources, state energy commissions and more. He was a teacher for the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Alaska Pacific University, made the All-America team for football during his time at Yale, and was known as a family man, preceded in death by his wife Martha and survived now by two daughters and grandchildren.

Roderick’s family said his health had been on the decline toward the end of his life, but even from his hospital bed, he wanted to make sure he did his part in this year’s election.

“He was not going to leave until he voted,” said Veronica Slajer, another close friend of Roderick’s. “He knew it was time to go, but he wanted to vote first.”

McKay said there was uncertainty over whether or not Roderick would make it to the early voting period. So, he went with an absentee ballot, which eventually got from the Division of Elections to Roderick to the mail.

Citing that and many other stories of drive and determination, friends and family described Roderick as hilariously funny and extraordinarily well-read, with a special love for his family.

“We would go bike riding when I was small and he could see it was safe, and he’d say, ‘GO FOR BROKE, LIB! Go for broke!’” said Libby Roderick. “And we’d dash our way across. And I say that because he left a spirit of adventure.”

A memorial for Roderick has yet to be scheduled due to the pandemic, his family said, though they hope his determination and spirit will live on for generations to come.

“All the things that we’re experiencing right now,” Slajer said, “we’re gonna be okay because of people like Jack Roderick.”

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