March 1, 2016–Ramona Barnes
Alaska is known for our tough women–none of them tougher than Ramona Barnes. She served 20 years in state government, becoming the longest-serving woman in the Alaska State Legislature. Nicknamed “Rambona” by an editorial cartoonist, she had a reputation for being gritty, hard-as-nails and absolutely committed to her state.
Growing up in Anchorage in the 70s and 80s, I knew nothing about her politics, but I saw her picture in the newspapers a lot. The adults in my life always referred to her by her first name, usually preceded by the simple command: “Go get ’em.”
Born in Tennessee in 1938, Barnes moved to Alaska in 1971 as a military wife. Before turning to politics, she worked as an undercover agent for the CIA in the Philippines, (wow!) opened a beauty salon in Anchorage and raised three children. Her first foray into politics involved the Elmendorf school system and education laws affecting her children. (Seriously, why hasn’t somebody written a screenplay?)
Her word was her bond, and politics were her life. Toward the end of her career, she was committed to furthering Alaska’s interests among the Pacific Rim nations. Her hard-hitting reputation prompted then Senate President Rick Halford to present her with a set of brass balls–a set lead 2lb halibut fishing weights painted gold. She proudly displayed them on her desk until her retirement from public office.
Barnes died in Anchorage in 2003 after a battle with cancer. Her papers can be found in the Archives and Special Collections of the UAA-APU Consortium Library.