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Raised and educated in Wisconsin, where she earned her law degree, Fran Ulmer came to Alaska in 1973. She started her 35-year career in public service working for the Alaska Legislature and then for Governor Jay Hammond for 6 years. She served in elected office for 18 years, as the Mayor of Juneau and in the Alaska House of Representatives, and then eight years as the Lieutenant Governor. She was the Democratic nominee for Governor in 2002. In 2003, she shifted her focus to higher education as a fellow at the Institute of Politics at Harvard University and then served as the Director of the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research. She was appointed Chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage in 2007.
Fran has mentored and inspired generations of young women to a life of public service, and with her husband, Bill Council, has raised two successful children to be life-long learners.
Best known for her work in support of women’s rights, Pauline Utter volunteered countless hours as an advocate and political activist in support of a woman’s right to safe, legal abortion. She mobilized opposition in campaigns and in the Legislature when efforts were made to limit this right. This led to her developing a statewide database which identified the strength of an individual’s support or opposition to contraception and abortion and the list made it possible to successfully educate voters during political campaigns. Utter was strategic in her efforts and used her knowledge and experience in research, data collection and organizing to upgrade the quality of campaigns in numerous electoral races. She was ahead of her time in educating voters in Alaska on important issues affecting women’s rights. Also in support of women’s rights, Utter served on the boards of Planned Parenthood and the Alaska Pro-Choice Alliance and founded the Abortion Rights Project in Alaska. These efforts were acknowledged in 2011 when was named an ACLU Hero of Liberty. Previously, she had been honored by her peers working in support of women’s rights by naming the Pauline’s Abortion Loan Fund in her honor. Professionally, Utter was co-owner of InformAlaska, Inc., working in the editing and publishing business. She was a chairperson for Alaskans for Better Media, where her leadership resulted in greatly improved news coverage by statewide television stations and reduced discrimination of women and minorities in media. Her work also led to requiring all major Alaska broadcasters to revise their discriminatory employment practices and comply with their public notice requirements under FCC law.
Utter is a role model for all women in Alaska and she led by example. She championed important principles and values; she practiced them herself as well as speaking with and organizing others to do the same. She was a true advocate of families. She befriended women, supporting them in their personal trials and then helping them to achieve their own goals. Although known for her public activities, her private assistance to untold numbers struggling with family problems, economic problems and emotional problems is not a matter of public record. It sounds old-fashioned, but she was straightforward and direct with her opinion which meant that those who needed help had no doubt about her understanding of their situation, her own related experiences and her recommendations. She gave advice, but she also hung in there with you, and she did not give up on you. She was a person who told the truth and told it quickly – a rare quality, especially among those who are dedicated to politics in the modern era, and one which inspires emulation.
Utter was born in 1942 and passed away in 2005. She left a legacy of fighting for justice and encouraging others to do so. She had a fearless passion for doing the right thing and a history of never giving up. Often described as “a force to be reckoned with,” Utter allowed no one to intimidate her from speaking what she believed while demonstrating that strong positions should be and can be freely debated.