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Sarah Palin Pays Tribute to 'Tough Warrior' Ted Stevens

4:20 PM, Aug 10, 2010 • By MARY KATHARINE HAM
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In the wake of the death of Ted Stevens, "Alaskan of the Century" Sarah Palin pays tribute on her Facebook page:

It’s with great sadness that Todd and I hear the reports coming in of Senator Ted Stevens’ passing in the plane crash near Dillingham. In our land of towering mountains and larger than life characters, none were larger than the man who in 2000 was voted “Alaskan of the Century.” This decorated World War II pilot was a warrior and a true champion of Alaska.

In 40 years of service in the U.S. Senate, he fought tenaciously for Alaska’s future. Alaskans know how much we owe to Senator Stevens, but all Americans owe him a debt of gratitude for his leadership on many issues, including the crucial energy issues that fuel American prosperity. Two years ago, he sat at my kitchen table over a salmon lunch, and we talked about our long anticipated Alaska natural gas pipeline and our mutual commitment to have the Last Frontier’s rich resources contribute to America’s quest for energy independence.

Our Senator was also known for spearheading efforts to ensure equality in education, and his Title IX legislation allowed girls to be on a level playing field in the athletic arena.

Our hearts and prayers are with the Stevens family and the families of the other victims of the crash.

Palin and Stevens— two giants of Alaska politics—have not always had a strictly warm relationship. During Palin's rise to stardom, the two came together more often as a political courtesy between fellow party members than in great affection, and sometimes kept their distance. Palin became governor by beating Stevens' friend Frank Murkowski, and Stevens was sometimes symbolic of the old network of Alaska politicians to which Palin styled herself as the alternative. Stevens was late in the game endorsing her for governor, but did, and she later appeared with him during his ill-fated race against Mark Begich while he talked up her potential as a Vice President.

Stevens was, quite literally, part of the birth of the state of the Alaska, working from a top spot in the Interior Department to win votes for statehood. This is not the first time his family has been touched by tragedy in the air in the rugged home state they love:

In his final speech on the Senate floor in 2008, Stevens said he was most proud of transforming Alaska from an impoverished U.S. territory to a rich oil-producing state. It was his life's work, he said.

"Where there was nothing but tundra and forest, today there are now airports, roads, ports, water and sewer systems, hospitals, clinics, communications networks, research labs and much, much more," he said. "Mr. President, Alaska was not 'Seward's Folly.' "

His difficult childhood shaped the tenacious adult who, as a senator, donned an "Incredible Hulk" tie to fight his toughest battles. The second half of his life was shaped by a 1978 crash at Anchorage International Airport that killed his wife, Ann, and four others. Stevens was one of two survivors. He and his wife had five children together. He had a sixth child, Lily, with his second wife, Catherine Bittner.

Five of the nine people on the plane died. Three survivors have been flown to Anchorage for treatment, but I can't find much information about who they were. Former NASA head Sean O'Keefe, a fishing buddy of Stevens', survived the crash. The father of current Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, Rep. Nick Begich, also died when his plane disappeared over Alaska in 1972. The wreckage of the plane, also carrying Rep. Hale Boggs of Louisiana, was never found.

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