“It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Dean of the House and revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved,” the statement said. “His beloved wife Anne was by his side.”
Young, who was reelected in 2020 to his 25th term as the only representative from Alaska, was the dean of the House, a symbolic position given to the longest-serving member of the chamber.
The congressman’s office remembered him as a “fierce defender of Alaska,” writing that “from the Trans-Alaska pipeline, to the Ketchikan Shipyard, to the Magnuson Stevens Act, which transformed the American fishing industry, to the numerous land exchanges he fought for, Don Young’s legacy cannot be overstated.”
Young served on the House Natural Resources and House Transportation and Infrastructure committees at the time of his death.
Born on June 9, 1933, in Meridian, California, north of Sacramento, Young would earn his associate degree at Yuba Junior College before going on to receive a bachelor’s degree in teaching from Chico State College, according to his congressional biography. Between earning his degrees, he served in the US Army’s 41st Tank Battalion from 1955 to 1957.
Young first entered public service in 1964, when he was elected mayor of Fort Yukon, Alaska, and would go on to serve four years in the state’s House and three in the state Senate.
He was first sworn into the US House of Representatives after winning a special election on March 6, 1973.
Shortly after arriving on Capitol Hill, Young worked to authorize the Trans-Alaska Pipeline. The congressman, according to his bio, often called it his most important achievement in Congress, saying, “Next to statehood itself, the most historical legislation passed that affected every Alaskan then, now, and in the future, was the passage of the pipeline legislation.”
Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement Friday that she was “saddened beyond belief about the loss of my friend. We have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart — always. Don was coming home to the place that he loved, and to the people that loved him best.”
Gov. Mike Dunleavy remembered Young as “a great friend” who, “in many ways, formed Alaska into the great state it is today.”
“This is the Congressman whom Alaska will remember forever. Alaska is a better place because of Don Young,” the Republican governor said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said Young was “a dedicated patriot and public servant.”
“For five decades, he was an institution in the hallowed halls of Congress: a serious legislator always bringing people together to do the People’s work,” she said. “The photographs of him with ten presidents of both parties who signed his bills into law that proudly cover the walls of his Rayburn office are a testament to his longevity and his legislative mastery.”
Pelosi has ordered the flags at the US Capitol to be flown at half-staff following Young’s death, according to a tweet, from her deputy chief of staff Drew Hammill. Her office also said that Republican Rep. Hal Rogers of Kentucky, who has been serving since 1981, is the new dean of the House.
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Flags were also flying at half-staff at the White House on Saturday to commemorate Young’s death, a White House official said.
This story has been updated with additional developments.
CNN’s Manu Raju, Sarah Fortinsky, Daniella Diaz and Arlette Saenz contributed to this report.