Vic Fischer, the last living signer of Alaska’s constitution, died Sunday at his Anchorage home. He was 99.
Fischer was born in Berlin in 1924, to a Russian mother and an American father. He grew up there and in Moscow, his childhood shaped by the brutal regimes of Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin.
His wife of 42 years, Jane Angvik, said Fischer believed in democratic government as a means to achieve goals and ideals. He considered it dangerous to think of government — or people with a different political view — as “them,” she said.
He believed that “government is the us of us,” she said. “We, as a community, get together to do this.”
In 1939, when the Stalinist government would not let Fischer, his mother and his brother leave the Soviet Union, his journalist father appealed to Eleanor Roosevelt. She personally intervened to win their freedom. And so, as Fischer later told it, his introduction to democracy began with dinner at the White House, a guest of the president and first lady. He was barely 15.
Fischer interrupted his university studies to serve in World War II as a U.S. soldier. He wrote in “To Russia with Love: An Alaskan’s Journey,” his 2012 memoir, that his values were set by the war’s end.
“They include the belief that people are more important than ideologies, the confidence in freedom that allows each person to fulfill her or his own capacity for good, the responsibility of all to care for those in need, the resistance to discrimination and racism, and the deep distrust of the state’s power to kill,” he wrote.
Fischer came to Alaska in 1950 and soon began advocating for statehood. Five years later, he was elected to help draft Alaska’s constitution. He served on the local government and drafting committees.
“Participating in the constitutional convention was a fabulous way of being part of democracy and state building,” Fischer said at a 2015 storytelling event.
Angvik said he was especially proud of Article I, Section 1 of the Alaska Constitution. It echoes the U.S. Constitution on the rights of its citizens to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” but ends with something new: “that all persons have corresponding obligations to the people and to the State.”
“And what that means is, you have to be involved in your government,” Angvik said. “It’s ours. It’s us.”
In 1956, Fischer was elected to the last territorial Legislature. He said his most important work there was co-authoring the repeal of Alaska’s death penalty.
“Which was very important to me, based on my abhorrence of the power of the state to kill its citizens, as I had seen in Germany and in Russia,” Fischer said in 2015.
In the 1980s he served two terms in the state Senate as a Democrat.
His advocacy also included supporting an unsuccessful bid to recall Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy, whose government-slashing agenda — Fischer felt — ran counter to the intent of the state constitution and the achievements of statehood.
At home, Fischer embraced the activities of fatherhood, recalled his youngest daughter, Ruth Angvik Dinkins. She said her dad attended all of her swim meets and concerts, made her breakfast daily and saw to it that she became a well-rounded world traveler by age 12.
“There was always classical music playing in the background,” she said. “Vic was fluent in three languages and he made sure that I learned how to say ‘I love you’ in those three languages.”
Fischer is also survived by three older children from a previous marriage.
Angvik said his death was a gentle transition, surrounded by friends, accompanied by a recording of Yo-Yo Ma on cello.
“He said, ‘I had a great run,’” Angvik recounted in an interview Monday. “‘I had the best life possible, and I am loved to the nth degree by my family and my friends. And I got to do stuff that was fun and exciting. And my kids talk to me. So golly, gee, what’s not to like?’”