Al Dwyer had been in and out of the hospital over the last five years. He had three strokes and then heart problems. So it was a surprise to his family when doctors found just last week that he had pancreatic cancer. He was diagnosed with the disease August 1, just days before he died at age 74.
Even though he had health issues for a while he was still all over town volunteering for various things.
“He was happy, he was a happy guy,” said Sally Dwyer, his wife of 40 years.
Long-time KFSK listeners have undoubtedly heard the song, Chantilly Lace. It’s the signature opening song to Al Dwyer’s volunteer show. He volunteered at the radio station regularly for over a decade. But KFSK was only one of the many ways he volunteered in Petersburg.
“He just was full of community,” Sally said.
Sally Dwyer is why Al came to Petersburg in the first place back in 1977. He was originally from Boston but moved to Alaska to work on the pipeline as an electrician. That’s where he met Sally. She brought him back to Petersburg where they were married the same year.
Within a few years he started working for the city as a building official. In 1981 he was hired by the State of Alaska as the Electrical Inspector for Southeast. That’s a job he held for nearly 10 years until he was promoted to Assistant Chief and then Chief. He and Sally moved to Juneau and Anchorage with those promotions.
Then, former Governor Tony Knowles made Dwyer the Director of Labor Standards and Safety for the Department of Labor which he did for six years. In that roll, he oversaw three divisions: OSHA-Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Wage an Hour, and Mechanical Inspection.
“He was one of the few guys that in 20 years had worked his way up by the time he retired. There weren’t many of them that did that,” Sally Dwyer said. “They were usually political appointees and Al was one of the few guys that actually worked in the trenches that was made a director.”
Sally says he had 85 employees working under him. That’s the same number of neck ties she says they gave away when he retired from the state in 2000. They moved back to Petersburg the follow year.
Dwyer spent the last 15 years in Petersburg being active and involved in the community. He was the mayor for five years. He ended up resigning in the middle of his third term after suffering from repeated strokes.
“His proudest moment as mayor was getting public smoking banned,” Sally said. “Because of employee health that’s the angle they took but that was one of his proudest crowning moments.”
He stayed an active member of the Sons of Norway for 37 years and is a past president of the organization. He was involved with the Elks and the Moose Lodges and Beat the Odds, a cancer support group.
He was a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) for over 50 years. Sally says being an electrician was a family thing.
“His dad was an electrician, five of his brothers, his two sons, 20 of his nephews, I mean it’s an electrical family,” she said.
Although they were electricians by trade, Dwyer’s family members were also musicians. Al played the piano and the guitar.
“His whole family was musical and are musical,” Sally said. “The kids, his sons are both singers, his grandson’s a rapper. Everybody in the family when he was growing up, he was the youngest of 14 kids, all but one tone deaf brother, everybody sang, Al had a beautiful Irish baritone. And his brother Eddie had a beautiful Irish tenor and they were called the two singers in the family. But everybody else sung harmony with them and his mom was an amateur singer in Boston.”
She says Al played the piano at home almost every day. He also played the piano at Petersburg’s Long Term Care and Assisted Living facilities. So, it’s really no surprise he hosted music shows on KFSK for years.
Al is survived by his wife, Sally, three children-two sons and a daughter-eight grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.
The funeral will be next Wednesday, August 17 at 3 p.m. at the Lutheran Church. It will be an ecumenical service representing different Christian churches. A reception will follow at the Sons of Norway Hall. It is not a potluck.
There will also be a rosary at the St. Catherine’s Catholic Church Tuesday, August 16 at 7 p.m.