Senator Chris Birch of Anchorage, dies at 68

ANCHORAGE, Alaska Senator Chris Birch of Anchorage, died at the age of 68 Wednesday night. According to his family, Birch had a normal Wednesday, staying active, when after 7 PM, he experienced severe chest pains and was taken to Providence Hospital in Anchorage.

Senator Chris Birch of Anchorage, died at the age of 68 Wednesday night. (Photo Courtesy of Alaska State Legislature)

Initially it was determined that he did not have a heart attack, but while they were administering tests to determine the cause of the pain, Birch went into cardiac arrest and died.

Birch's family released a statement saying, "our family is devastated. The same optimistic, level-headed, steadfast, honest, gregarious, and positive public persona that so many of you knew, was the exact same husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend that he was to all of us. He was the ultimate cheerleader and it is difficult to imagine this world without him."

City of Fairbanks Mayor Jim Matherly said he knew Birch personally for over forty years, a family friend. "Chris was every bit a nice person as you could ever imagine and to have a current senator pass away too suddenly really makes all of Juneau and all of us think about how precious life is," said Matherly.

Senate President Cathy Giessel stated, “Rich and I offer our heartfelt condolences to Pam and the Birch family. This is a devastating loss to our state. Chris was a good, principled man of character, one who treated everyone with dignity and respect. You could always count on him to stand up for what’s right, regardless of the political consequences. His absence in the Capitol will be keenly felt by all who had the privilege to know him.”

Attorney General Kevin Clarkson released the following statement, “we mourn today with all of Alaska the passing of Senator Chris Birch. Senator Birch was a highly respected legislator and leader, and his absence will be keenly felt by all. I want to extend my heartfelt condolences to the Birch family. He will be missed.”

Governor Mike Dunleavy will appoint someone within 30 days to temporarily fill Senator Birch's seat, until the legislature convenes following a special election, which will occur at the same time as the general election in 2020.

Dunleavy released a statement saying, "Rose and I are deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Senator Chris Birch. Chris was a loving husband, father, and grandfather. His immense contributions to the communities and the state will always be remembered. As an engineer, he was truly involved in building our great state. He was an ardent supporter of responsible resource development and utilizing our resource wealth to move our state forward. Alaska and her people will always be grateful for the service and commitment of Senator Birch. Our deepest prayers are with his wife Pam and his children and grandchildren.”

Governor Mike Dunleavy directed Alaska state flags to fly at half-staff in honor of Senator Chris Birch from Friday August 9th to Wednesday August 14th.

Other legislators’ reactions:

“Chris’ passing came as shock to us all. He was extremely fit, in both mind and body. Chris never met a hiking trail he didn’t like and could often be found on top of a mountain range, rain or shine. He carried that same mindset to the Senate floor and didn’t shy away from the tough topics. Instead, he worked hard for Alaska’s best future, while always maintaining a positive outlook. He was my colleague, my hiking partner, my dear friend. I will miss him deeply,” said Senator Natasha von Imhof.

“Chris Birch’s life was simply beautiful. I remember him first as a dear friend, always positive and uplifting in his words and conduct. His smile was infectious and warmed people around him like a campfire on a cool night. His wife Pam and their kids and grandchildren were his highest joy. As a professional colleague, I marveled at his capacity to do his work with the utmost courage during very difficult times. He was fearless, comfortable in his own skin, and honorable toward everyone. We lost a leader, husband, father, grandfather, and friend," said Rep. Chuck Kopp (R-Anchorage).

“Allan and I have lost a dear personal friend, and the State of Alaska has lost a great leader," said Rep. Jennifer Johnston (R-Anchorage).

“Life is short. We all know it, but it’s easy to forget. That simple fact snapped into focus when I learned of Chris Birch’s passing. Above all, I will remember Chris as a family man. His wife, Pam, his children, and his grandchildren are all in my thoughts and prayers. I will also remember Chris’ fierce advocacy as a legislator for what he believed was in the best interests of the people he represented. We’ve lost a true Alaskan statesman,” said House Speaker Bryce Edgmon (I-Dillingham).