Bill Sheffield, 1928-2022 – Railway Age | So Good News
Marybeth Luczak, Managing Editor
William “Bill” Jennings Sheffield Jr., who as Alaska governor in 1984 brokered the deal to buy the Alaska Railroad from the federal government, died Nov. 4 in Anchorage. He was 94.
The Alaska Railroad Corporation (ARRC) reported that for 40 years, Sheffield championed the progress of the Alaska Railroad, which will celebrate its centennial in 2023. He most recently served as chairman emeritus of the board.
The policies and projects Sheffield implemented during his tenure as Alaska’s fifth governor (1982-86) had a lasting impact on the state, particularly in the transportation sector, according to the ARRC, which noted that the $22.271 million purchase of the Alaska Railroad from the federal government made the railroad into a state asset and saved it from being closed (see picture on the left). Sheffield also pushed for and signed a bill that moved Alaska into one time zone, where the state was previously divided into four.
When Sheffield’s term as governor ended, he continued to support the railroad on the board from 1995-97 and as president and CEO from 1997-2001. “During this time, he helped establish the railroad’s eligibility for federal funding, facilitating huge investments in infrastructure and facilities,” the ARRC said. Sheffield returned to the board in 2004.
Sheffield was also president of the Alaska Chamber and the Alaska Visitors Association (now the Alaska Travel Industry Association); trustee of Alaska Pacific University; member of the ENSTAR Natural Gas Advisory Board; and charter member of Commonwealth North.
“There are simply no words to encompass all that Bill Sheffield meant to our organization,” said ARRC President and CEO Bill O’Leary. “Alaska lost a great man, someone who always put his state first and did what he thought was best for the people of Alaska. Bill was an example, and we will honor his contribution for many, many years to come.”
“Over the years, Bill has brought invaluable leadership and stewardship to the ARRC,” said ARRC Chairman John Shively, who noted that Sheffield “worked tirelessly to ensure the railroad was successful.”