Ramona Lee Etta Barnes, the first woman speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives, died on Nov. 26 from pneumonia. She was 65.
Born in Tennessee, Barnes moved to Alaska as a military wife in 1971. Prior to her political career, she worked for the CIA in the Philippines as an undercover agent, raised three children and managed a beauty school and salon in Anchorage.
A social conservative, Barnes was elected to the Alaska legislature in 1978. The longest-serving woman legislator in state history, she served her constituents for 20 years. Barnes was the first woman to hold every legislative leadership position, from majority leader to minority whip, and became House speaker in 1993. Republicans have controlled the House ever since.
“Ramona had a tough exterior but a soft heart. She was absolutely committed to Alaska, especially regarding management of its resources and assertion of its rights vis-a-vis the federal government. In her last years in the Legislature, she committed herself to improving Alaska’s place in international trade and worked tirelessly on improved relationships with countries and businesses in the Pacific Rim,” Alaska’s Lieutenant Governor Loren Leman stated.
Senate President Rick Halford once gave her a set of “brass balls,” which was actually a pair of 2-pound fishing sinkers painted gold. Barnes displayed the ornament on her desk.