Longtime Alaska legislator Clem Tillion dies at 96

Clem Tillion, a retired commercial fisherman and longtime Alaska legislator.
Clem Tillion, a retired commercial fisherman and longtime Alaska legislator.(KTUU)
Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 4:01 PM AKDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 5:04 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Longtime former Alaska legislator and commercial fisherman Clem Tillion has died. He was 96.

Tillion was a retired commercial fisherman who served nine terms in the Alaska Legislature, in both the House and Senate. He lived in Halibut Cove across Kachemak Bay from Homer.

According to family members, Tillion died on Wednesday morning in Halibut Cove.

Tillion was in the Legislature when Alaska’s Permanent Fund was created, and had become a staunch defender of following the 1982 statutory formula for the Permanent Fund dividend.

“Clem Tillion was one of a kind,” said former Gov. Bill Walker on Wednesday. “He was a tremendous Alaskan, he was a passion for commercial fishing, he was a passion for fisherman. He was an amazing individual.”

Walker described Tillion as a mentor him.

“I smile thinking about Clem Tillion because he was such an amazing orator,” Walker said. “And his stories that you could just never get enough of were just legendary about Alaska, and about Alaskans.”

Alaska has lost another legend and I have lost a mentor and a friend with the passing of Clem Tillion. Clem was a...

Posted by Bill Walker on Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Originally from Brooklyn, New York, Tillion homesteaded in Halibut Cove in the 1940s, and is credited along with his family with helping to develop the community. He was a former chairman of the North Pacific Fisheries Management Council, and served on a number of councils and committees dedicated to fisheries regulation.

Walker said Tillion’s involvement with working for Alaska didn’t end when the left the Legislature in 1980.

“That was a mere part of ... his journey, and his passion continued,” he said.

Walker said he doesn’t think he ever attended a meeting about fisheries where Tillion wasn’t present advocating on behalf of Alaska.

“He was one of my greatest friends and heroes and I will miss him so much,” said Diane Kaplan, president and CEO of the Rasmuson Foundation. “A great, great Alaskan.”

Several Alaska politicians, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski, took to social media to remember Tillion on Wednesday, calling him “a true legend in the world of Alaska fisheries policy.”

“He once told me that the problem with Alaska today is that there are not enough people who want to die here,” Murkowski wrote. “At first I was taken aback by his comments, but I came to understand that what Clem really meant was that those who deeply, truly love Alaska never leave and will die happy here. I believe Clem was happy. I send my love and deepest condolences to Clem’s family, friends, and all those in Alaska who held him in such high regard. Alaska is a better place because of Clem Tillion.”

Gov. Mike Dunleavy also said in a Wednesday press release that he extends his sympathies to Tillion’s loved ones.

“He embodied the Alaskan spirit through his tireless work as a state legislator, as a commercial fisherman and as a family man,” Dunleavy said in the release. “Clem paved the way for the Permanent Fund Dividend and created a pivotal future for Alaska. I enjoyed my many conversations with Clem as we worked through Alaska’s issues together. Our state is great because of men like Clem and he will be missed by many.”

Dunleavy also ordered that Alaska state flags fly at half-staff from sunrise to sunset on Monday, Oct. 18.

Tillion’s wife, Diana Rutzebeck Tillion, died at 81 in 2010.

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