Missing Bella Hammond

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Bella in her cabin kitchen.
Photo by Bob Waldrop.

Alaska has lost a true gem. Former Alaska First Lady Bella Hammond passed away peacefully with her family on February 29, 2020. I am honored to have had her as a client in a Trustees’ case challenging Pebble’s mining exploration activities, and to call her friend.

When I first met Bella Hammond in 2009, I felt like such a fan girl. She was the beloved First Lady of a beloved Alaska governor, Jay Hammond, and she was on the crusade against the proposed Pebble mine.

A tireless advocate for Bristol Bay

Bella had come into the office to learn more about being a plaintiff in the Pebble lawsuit. After hearing the basis for challenging the State’s violations of the Alaska Constitution’s public notice requirements for  years of disruptive and environmentally damaging mining exploration by Pebble, she was in. She openly declared her own stake in the issue in court papers. She was deposed and sat as a witness at trial.

She was fearless in her convictions and articulate in her concerns. She was also tireless in talking to any decision-maker who would listen about why Pebble must be stopped.

Sunrise from the Hammond homestead. Photo by Vicki Clark.

Later, the State and Pebble came after Bella and the other plaintiffs for nearly $1 million in attorneys’ fees and costs when we lost at trial. It broke my heart that it came to that, but Bella never complained.

She was confident that we would win both issues before the Alaska Supreme Court, and she was right. We did!

In the meantime, Bella and I became good friends and I visited her and her devoted and spoiled canine companions at the homestead on Lake Clark, a place she never wanted to leave.

She later moved to her daughter’s house in Anchorage and I continued to visit. We had lively political discussions, she told me amazing life stories about her and Jay, and we always commiserated that Pebble wouldn’t give up and go away.

A woman of action

One of my favorite stories was from when Jay was governor. One day the phone rang and Bella answered. The woman on the other end asked for the Governor’s wife. Bella was a bit surprised and let the caller know who she was. Bella asked if the caller wanted to talk to the Governor’s office. The caller said no, because she knew it was Bella who would help get something done.

The woman was right. Bella did get things done. Bella was a polite, quiet, and strong woman, but spoke out for what she believed in.

The sparkle in her eye and her humor ensured she was likely to get what she wanted.

I aspire to Bella’s wonderful qualities. And Trustees and many others will carry on the fight against Pebble.

Bella, I miss you, friend.

Bella Hammond’s obituary

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