A woman schooled in Haines who served as executive secretary to former Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond and longtime aide to former U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens has been named to the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame.
Community advocate Marie Matsuno Nash of Anchorage joins Irene Rowan as the second local inductee to the four-year-old institution, joining the likes of Elizabeth Peratrovich, Neva Egan and Sarah Palin.
Nash was born in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho in 1943, the second of seven children of a Japanese father and Aleut mother. Raised in the Bristol Bay village of Ugashik, which had no school, she was sent to Haines for a formal education.
She lived at the Haines House dormitory and attended local schools, graduating from Haines High School.
In an interview this week, Nash said her 12 years here helped her learn the Tlingit culture and made her more independent. With no phones in Ugashik at the time, contact with her parents most of the year was limited to letter-writing. “It made me very homesick.”
But by age 14, Nash was traveling alone between Haines and Ugashik on summertime trips home to work at her family’s set-net fishing site. She later traveled to China in the 1970s with Gov. Hammond and served as Alaska’s representative to the Inuit Circumpolar Conference in Greenland.
“These life experiences greatly influenced (Nash’s) advocacy and humanitarian work. She served at all levels, going above and beyond the norm in helping individuals and community organizations,” wrote Tony Nakazawa, a University of Alaska economics professor who nominated Nash.
Nash’s family background in an Aleut village, along with time in Haines and college in the Interior, gave her a broad perspective on the state that helped in her government career, she said this week. “I’ve known people from all over. I’ve been fortunate.”
Nash studied sociology at University of Alaska-Fairbanks, paying for her education with earnings from summertime fishing.
“I was going to be a social worker. (In government), we were always helping people out, so it kind of felt like I was doing social work. I was helping people cut through red tape,” she said.
In 1967, Nash was named UAF Student of the Year. As a member of the college Republicans, she met Howard Pollock, a candidate for Alaska’s sole Congressional seat. When Pollock won office, she landed a job working for him in Washington, D.C.
Nash retired from Sen. Stevens’ office in 2004 after 29 years of service, including as director of Stevens’ state office. Posts she has held include chair of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, vice-president of the Alaska chapter of the Japanese American Citizens League and secretary of the Japan Relief Fund of Alaska (created after the 2011 tsunami).
For her service, including volunteer work, Nash has won awards from the Anchorage School District, American Red Cross and U.S. Army. She lives in Haines 1950-1962.