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.
Ramona Barnes, I cry her tears for Alaska
I have read many of the news reports regarding my Aunt Ramona Barnes. This has given me much pride in her accomplishments. I have always held the highest level of respect for her.
It appears that we as people do not really fully appreciate what we have until it is gone.
Ramona Barnes was truly motivated to improve life for everyone in Alaska. Yes, Ramona was raised in Pikeville, Tennessee however Alaska was her home. It was her life.
Most voters did not understand the sacrifices made by a hard working politician especially, if that politician is a single mother. The family feels a loss because their Mother is always working and has little time for their needs. The Mother feels a need to provide a loving and comfortable secure home for their children. My Aunt Ramona felt that one big way to accomplish this would make the strong effort to improve their world around them. She did just that. Her efforts resulted in a better life for her children and everyone in Alaska.
When she lost the prior election, she did not understand that following so many years of hard work and loyalty to the people of her State, she was no longer a member in the Legislature. The
I used to work for Ramona years ago as an assistant to her Attorney and her Secretary, Jeanne. I was so saddened after all these years of not knowing about her death and decided to research her name to see how she was doing. I truly respected Ramona and always appreciated that she gave me an opportunity to work with her when I had only been in Alaska a couple of years from South Carolina. I recall Ramona showing me her “brass balls” and chuckling about them. I learned so much from Ramona and admired her independence and down to earth nature. Ramona was unique and worked so hard in her position as House Speaker to make Alaska a better place. Although she seemingly had a “tough” image, Ramona had a kind and caring heart. I will never forget Ramona and I hope to see her again one day.
Thank you for your kind words. Aunt Ramona was my Mother’s sister. She was an impressive individual. I saw her as a woman who was firm, loyal and fair. I miss her, deeply.