‘Revered and feared’: Don Young lies in state at the Capitol

Congress gathers to remember the Alaska Republican

Anne Walton, second from left, and other members of Rep. Don Young’s family mourn as the Alaska Republican lies in state in National Statuary Hall on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Anne Walton, second from left, and other members of Rep. Don Young’s family mourn as the Alaska Republican lies in state in National Statuary Hall on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted March 29, 2022 at 1:19pm

It was freezing out the morning Don Young, the dean of the House, returned to the Capitol one last time.

As much as it was unseasonably cold for Washington on Tuesday, it was fitting for Young, a California native who made his home in tiny Fort Yukon, located seven miles above the Arctic Circle. And Young himself could be bitingly frosty with his colleagues at times, though he was better known for his passion.

“Donald Edwin Young was larger than life, both bellicose and beloved, revered and feared,” House Chaplain Margaret Kibben said in her eulogy for the Republican, who died March 18 at age 88.

Members of Young's family greeted his casket at the top of the House stairs, then entered Statuary Hall to take their seats in the first row. Young’s widow, Anne Walton, sat the closest, her right hand over her heart.  

“Alaska’s third senator” was remembered by the Last Frontier’s other two, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski. Both shared stories of Young’s colorful personality.

“He could hold his own in a debate with the best minds of the world, and even hold a knife to the throat of the speaker of the House,” said Sullivan, referencing an incident during which Young, in the heart of an argument with then-Speaker John Boehner, pulled a knife on his fellow Republican. Boehner later served as best man at Young’s wedding.

“He was gruff, but he had a soft spot. He could be so caring, so compassionate,” said Murkowski. “He was not just a colleague to me, but he was a mentor, he was my friend. He truly has been my congressman for all my tenure, and again, congressman for all of Alaska, for so many Alaskans’ lives.”

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy spoke, followed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Young’s family wept as the U.S. Army Chorus sang “Amazing Grace.”

Over his 25 terms in the House, Young made more friends than enemies, and many paid their respects Tuesday as he lay in state. Shortly before Young’s casket arrived, Republican Reps. Steve Scalise and Fred Upton could be seen chatting with Democratic Rep. Teresa Leger Fernandez and Sen. Ben Ray Luján. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland was there to say goodbye to the man who introduced her at her confirmation hearing.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg was also there. Young was a top-ranking member of the House Transportation Committee for years and voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed by President Joe Biden in November.

Dozens of other lawmakers from both parties attended Tuesday’s ceremony. 

Biden was expected to stop by and pay his respects Tuesday afternoon while Young lies in state under the Capitol Rotunda. Later Tuesday, the House will consider a bill named after the long-serving representative: the Don Young Coast Guard Authorization Act of 2022.

Young served in the chamber for almost a half-century, roughly three-quarters of the time Alaska has been part of the union. He came to Congress in 1973. 

He passes on the title of dean of the House to GOP Rep. Hal Rogers, who has represented his Kentucky constituents for more than 40 years. The dean is the current member with the longest continuous service, a tradition that dates back to the early 19th century.

These days, the title is seen as a mark of respect and comes with a key ceremonial duty — administering the oath of office to the House speaker at the beginning of each Congress.

Chris Cioffi and Paul V. Fontelo contributed to this report.