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The Great Land Loses a Great One

A pillar of Alaska's young history passed on December 12, 2007.

A pillar of Alaska’s young history passed on December 12, 2007. Tom Stewart, better known as Judge Stewart in Juneau, was the chief organizer of the Alaska Constitutional Convention. “Without him it wouldn't have happened,” said long time friend and fellow constitutional delegate George Rogers.

Tom Stewart received his Honorary Doctorate of Laws, University of Alaska Southeast in 1992. George Rogers received an Honorary Doctorate of Economics, University of Alaska Anchorage in 1986.

Stewart PhotoStewart earned a Silver Star for his role in liberating Italy from the Nazis during World War 2.  Upon return from the war, his vision was to learn Russian and find a way to improve relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. “It was not the Americans; it was the Russians that beat the Germans, beginning at the Battle of Stalingrad when they wiped out the third German army.  And I decided that in my lifetime Russia was going to be the foreign entity that we had to deal with,” said Stewart in a public television interview in May, 2007.

He earned a Masters Degree in Russian studies at the Peterborough School of Advanced International Studies in New Hampshire and then spent the summer of 1947 in neighboring Vermont in a Russian language program at Middlebury College.

But a political paranoia of the time shifted Stewart’s dream. “I wanted to work with the Russians,” he recalled.  “But because of McCarthyism I couldn't get a job even though I had a pretty complete educational background.”

Rogers remembers when Stewart had renowned Soviet dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn over for tea in the Juneau home Stewart’s father built in the early 1900’s. Rogers and wife Jean were there for the occasion. “Solzhenitsyn said until the Russians come back to Mother Russia, it [cooperation between the two countries] wouldn't’t work.” Rogers remembers.  Stewart realized his dream was impossible. “He said we can achieve a brave new world here.”

“His mission was to see Alaska become a state and the route was the constitution,” said Rogers. “He got the idea to draft up a constitution. Then we could show other states we were ready to become a state.”

Stewart put everything he had into the task. “I spent six weeks of my own time and my own funds,” Stewart told a UAS Evening at Egan audience commemorating the 50th Anniversary of the Constitutional Convention. He travelled to Hawaii to witness their efforts at statehood and pored over documents at academic institutions including the Universities of Chicago and Washington as well as Princeton, Harvard and Yale, seeking a “how-to” guide on writing a constitution.

Stewart organized and served as secretary of the 1955 Constitutional Convention and pushed for it to be held at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Rogers said Stewart’s preparation was “magnificent.  We called it creating Alaska.”

Stewart may be best remembered as a founding father of Alaska, but he had many other accomplishments in his almost 89 years (he would have turned 89 January 1, 2008). He is also remembered as a loving father and stepfather. Tom and wife Jane raised six children. He is the first Alaskan to graduate Yale Law School. He served Alaska as a Territorial legislator, one of the first state senators and Superior Court judge.

As a U.S. Army captain in the legendary 10th Mountain Division, Stewart earned his Silver Star when his unit was attempting to cross the Po River in the Apennine Mountains. Stewart was atop a dike, keeping a look out for the safety of his men. “The shell bursts of deflected anti-aircraft fire took place about every minute and a half.   So in that lull I ran on the top of the dike and then anticipating that the shells were going to come, I hit the ground and the shrapnel spit in around me,” he recalled in the public television interview.

This past August, Stewart brought along his children and grandchildren to a reunion in Denver, Colorado of his old war buddies. He was one of the troops that endured some of the harshest winter training possible in the mountains of Camp Hale, Colorado. It was the last reunion organized by the living veterans of the 10th Mountain Division in World War Two.

On November 11, 2005 as he regaled a UAS Evening at Egan audience with his stories of birthing the state of Alaska, Stewart wore a blazer with the insignia of crossed ski shaped swords of the 10th Mountain Division.


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