Former Alaska first lady Bella Hammond dies at 87

Former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond, second from right, with her husband, Jay Hammond, at the Governor’s Mansion during his term of office. Behind them is then-Lt. Gov. Lowell Thomas and Tay Thomas. (Alaska State Library)

Former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond of Lake Clark has died. 

Hammond was a commercial fisherman who loved to garden and took in stray dogs. She was a private person who took on her role as the governor’s wife without airs.

Bella Gardiner was born in 1932 and raised in the Dillingham area by her Yup’ik mother, Lydia Snyder, and her Scottish father, Thomas Gardiner.

As a teen, Bella worked as a waitress and doctor’s assistant at the Clark’s Point cannery. She was still in high school when met pilot Jay Hammond at a dance in Dillingham. They married in 1952 and raised two daughters in Naknek. Bella fished commercially at her setnet site on the Naknek River for many years. 

In 1974, Jay Hammond was elected governor and Bella became first lady. At the governor’s mansion, she tended the flower beds and was sometimes mistaken for the grounds crew. Every summer she left Juneau to fish in Bristol Bay.

During her husband’s second term, Bella was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was open about her illness and became an advocate for breast cancer treatment. 

When Jay’s term ended, they moved back to their log home on Lake Clark. Jay Hammond died there in 2005. Bella continued to live at the homestead alone, well into her 80s. 

According to an obituary published in the Anchorage Daily News, Bella Hammond died Feb. 29. She was 87. 

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent at Alaska Public Media. Reach her at Read more about Liz here.

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