Tommy Johnson

Lifetime Alaskan Thomas John Johnson, 85, died of natural causes July 30, 2009, at home in Anchorage.

 A service will be at 2 p.m. Aug. 28 at the Nome Recreation Center. Pallbearers are Jack and Andy Johnson, Fritz Chambers, Michael O'Connor, Gene Matthews, Leo Rasmussen and Pete Larsen Jr.

Tommy's father, John, came to Alaska from Trondheim, Norway, in 1882 and became a U.S. citizen in 1892. John settled in Bristol Bay to fish. Tommy's mother, Paniony, was from Nelson Island. Tommy was their third son, born on Feb. 14, 1924, in Kinak near Bethel. Paniony died after the birth of Tommy's younger brother, Andrew. John did his best to fish and raise his four sons. He had an 80-head reindeer herd and built sailboats.  John placed his four boys in the Moravian Children's Home in Kwethluk, near Bethel, when he became too sick to care for them. He died from stomach cancer in Seward.

At age 16, Tommy left the orphanage with a limited education and total knowledge of the Bible. In 1939, he became a deckhand on the boat Moravian, which carried freight around Alaska. That same year, he was hired as a laborer and helped build the hospital building in Dillingham. He drove a cab with his brothers Dan and John in Anchorage at their The Special Cab company. He would fish every summer on Bristol Bay out of Clarks Point. He was drafted in 1942 and served in the U.S. Army in the Aleutian Islands.

Morris & Knutson hired Tommy in 1946 and he became a member of The International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302. He worked in Fairbanks and around Alaska until 1955, when he moved to Nome with the White Alice project. Tommy worked for Morris & Knutson until 1976.

 From 1976 until his retirement on Aug. 1, 2004, Tommy was an agent for O.E. Local 302 out of Nome, for the areas of Nome, Yukon, Bethel, Kotzebue, Lisburne and the North Slope.

Tommy married Myrtle Fagerstrom Chambers on Feb. 11, 1956, in Anchorage, with his brother Dan and Dan's wife Goldie as witnesses. Tommy and Myrtle had two sons: "Echo" in 1957 and Jack in 1959. He also helped raise Myrtle's four children, Fritz, Lynn, Ann and Jo. Tommy's son "Echo" was so nicknamed because he was an exact reflection of Tommy. Echo died in a hunting accident in 1972. Grandson Carl Putman called Tommy "Dad" until he was 6. Carl would go to Tommy over the years to help him through tough times. He especially remembers telling Tommy about the passing of his other grandpa. Tommy asked him if he was OK; he was very kindly and caring.

Every summer for more than 50 years, Tommy commercial fished out of Clark's Point in Bristol Bay. The name of his boats were Echo, Echo II, Echo III and, finally, Solid Gold, which he took back to Nome and converted to a crab boat. Often his boat would have the best catch of the season. Tommy's sons and wife were members of his crew.

He had hands-on training as a laborer, carpenter and heavy-duty mechanic. The Alaska commissioner of labor states: "Tommy was an advocate for pushing local hire in Nome and Alaska. He was a champion for teaching the young people hunting, fishing and working." Sen. Ted Stevens was Tommy's lawyer in Fairbanks in the early 1950s and remained a close friend Tommy's whole life. Through the years, Tommy served on the Alaska State Commission for Human Rights, Nome City Council, Nome Joint Utilities Board and Bering Straits Credit Union Board. He served on the Bering Straits Native Corporation Board for 17 years. He joined the Nome Volunteer Fire Department in 1957, served many years and continued to actively support the volunteers after he retired.

Tommy is survived by his wife of 53 years, Myrtle Fagerstrom Johnson of Anchorage; brothers and sister-in-law, Dan and Goldie Johnson of Kenai, and Andrew Klondike Johnson of Anchorage; and son and wife, Jack and Binxy Johnson of Nome.