FLOOR SPEECH: Remembering Sam R. Brice and Howard A. "Buzz" Otis

Mr. President, over Memorial Day weekend Interior Alaska lost two really good people. They were doers. And they were builders – both literally and figuratively. They were family people and the best of friends.   

Today I pay tribute to Sam R. Brice and Howard A. Otis. But nobody called him Howard. We knew him as “Buzz”. Buzz Otis. I would like to tell the Senate a bit about these two wonderful people.

You couldn’t find two more genuine Alaskans than Sam and Buzz. Yet neither was born in Alaska.  Sam grew up in Florida. He was educated at Columbia University in the City of New York. After service in the Marine Corps he moved to Alaska to help his parents, Luther and helenka, establish a family construction business.

Real Alaskans know that “helenka” spelled her name with a lower case “h”. She pronounced it “e-len-ka” with an emphasis on the “len.” She was the epitome of an independent, self-reliant, Alaska woman and never let anyone forget it. Outgoing and vivacious with a heart of gold. And it all wore off on her children, especially Sam.

It was said that Sam never met a stranger.  He was known for remembering every good deed that others did for him, even decades after the event. And he generously returned the favor.

He was a leader of the Associated General Contractors but was best known in his later years for roasting his fellow contractors at AGC dinners. The man had a sense of humor and it was contagious.

The following lines from Sam’s obituary say everything you need to know about the man.

In lieu of flowers, the family would wish all to remember Sam who lived by example, whether a handshake, a smile or a contribution; he was always willing to lend a helping hand. Please remember all the different ways Sam has touched people's lives and consciously think how you can make the world a better place, as Sam demonstrated throughout his life. We ask you honor Sam's memory by emulating his compassion to others and be a friend to man.

Buzz Otis was also a transplant to Alaska. He grew up in Michigan and was educated at Michigan State. He came to Alaska in 1975, intending to explore the state for a few months. That plan didn’t work out well. In 1976 Buzz founded a landscaping business called Great Northwest. This was his ticket to business success.

But being successful in business is not enough to make you a beloved Alaskan. Real Alaskans give back to the community and Buzz did that in spades. He served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Assembly and was elected its Presiding Officer. He chaired the Fairbanks Economic Development Corporation and managed the North Pole Economic Development Corporation. He was an outdoorsman and like many Alaskans an aficionado of the sport of dog mushing. His passion was encouraging young people to take up the sport. And like Sam, Buzz was an exceptional father. Because real Alaskans also know that family comes first.

And that is ultimately what claimed the lives of these two wonderful people with so much life left in them. Buzz’s son was out in the wild and the two went off to check on him. It didn’t take much to get Sam up in the air. He loved to fly his plane in his beloved Alaska. Buzz’s son was OK but the plane unfortunately wasn’t. It went down near the Salcha River on the morning of Saturday May 27, 2017.

If only this story had a happy ending. Instead it has an Alaskan ending. Sam and Buzz gave their lives doing what Alaskans do – watching out for one another.

But we don’t remember people for how they lost their lives. We remember people for how they lived their lives. Sam and Buzz were “salt of the earth” Alaskans. Honest, hardworking, caring and adventurous. They hired local people, treated them well, and were always welcomed back by the communities which they so faithfully served. They dedicated their life to the betterment of the last frontier.

Everyone says, you can’t say enough about these people. It’s true. So I will stop there and simply express the Senate’s condolences to the Brice and Otis families; great families destined to carry on the legacies of Sam Brice and Buzz Otis.