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GOP Rep. Don Young of Alaska, longest-serving member of Congress, dies at 88

The Alaska lawmaker was first elected to Congress in 1973 and was the longest-serving congressional Republican in U.S. history.

GOP Rep. Don Young, the longest-serving member of the current Congress, died Friday at age 88 while traveling home to Alaska, his office said in a statement.

Young, who was first elected to Congress in 1973, was also the longest-serving Republican lawmaker in congressional history.

“It’s with heavy hearts and deep sadness that we announce Congressman Don Young (R-AK), the Dean of the House and revered champion for Alaska, passed away today while traveling home to Alaska to be with the state and people that he loved. His beloved wife Anne was by his side,” his office said.

Young’s death comes as he was preparing a re-election campaign for a 26th term in Congress. The blunt-speaking lawmaker was a senior Republican on both the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the House Natural Resources Committee — panels he chaired at various points in his tenure.

President Joe Biden said Saturday that Young "always stayed true to who he was and the people of Alaska he represented."

"There is no doubt that few legislators have left a greater mark on their state. Don’s legacy lives on in the infrastructure projects he delighted in steering across Alaska. In the opportunities he advanced for his constituents. In the enhanced protections for Native tribes he championed. His legacy will continue in the America he loved," Biden said in a statement, describing Young as "tough" and "loyal."

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Friday she was “saddened beyond belief about the loss of my friend.”

“We have lost a giant who we loved dearly and who held Alaska in his heart—always. Don was coming home to the place that he loved, and to the people that loved him best. We love you, Don,” Murkowski said in a statement.

In 2019, Young became the longest-serving Republican in congressional history, surpassing former House Speaker Joseph Gurney Cannon of Illinois.

“It has been the honor of my life to represent our great state in the House of Representatives for 46 years,” Young said when he was recognized on the House floor for the achievement. “I love and respect this institution, and it is a privilege to have worked with over 2,000 other members throughout my tenure. I would like to thank my friends on both sides of the aisle for taking time to recognize this milestone today. I stand energized and as ready as ever to keep up the fight for all of Alaska.”

Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy, in a statement Friday, described Young as an “amazing man who, in many ways, formed Alaska into the great state it is today."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has ordered the flags at the Capitol to be flown at half-staff after the passing of Young, spokesman Drew Hammill said in a tweet on Saturday.

Young was born in 1933 in Meridian, California. He earned an associate’s degree from Yuba Junior College in 1952 and later received a bachelor’s degree in teaching at Chico State College in 1958. He served two years in the U.S. Army’s 41st Tank Battalion, from 1955 to 1957.

Young moved to Alaska in 1959, when it became a U.S. state, and worked in construction. He also "tried his hand" at fishing and trapping and searched for gold, according to his congressional website. He eventually settled in Fort Yukon, a remote town of 700 residents just miles above the Arctic Circle, and became mayor in 1964. Two years later, Young was elected to the state Legislature in Juneau and served in both chambers before heading to Congress.

Young and his first wife, Lu, had two children. She died in 2009; the couple had been married for 46 years. Young and Anne Garland Walton were married in 2015.