For immediate release
Jan. 4, 2022
Contact: Lisa Demer, 907-545-3555 (cell)
ldemer@rasmuson.org

Ed Rasmuson reflects in July 2020 at the Anchorage Museum, Rasmuson Wing, Art of the North Galleries. He was the driving force for a dedicated space depicting the land and people of the North. (Photo by Kyle Seago for “Magnetic North: The Alaskan Character”)

Anchorage, AK – Third-generation Alaskan, banker and philanthropist Edward Bernard Rasmuson died on Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022, at his home in Anchorage, Alaska. He succumbed to a particularly vicious brain cancer, following a year of treatment. He was 81 years old and, for much of his life, one of the most influential and generous men in Alaska.

“One of Alaska’s tallest trees has fallen,” said Rasmuson Foundation President and CEO Diane Kaplan, who was hired by Ed as the Foundation’s first employee in 1995. “Ed’s intense love of Alaska inspired a generation of board members and staff. He was a mentor in all matters Alaska and modeled how effective leaders balance work with a full and satisfying life. With Ed, you always knew where you stood. He gave the Rasmuson staff the encouragement and resources to pursue our passions so long as the aim was to benefit Alaskans.”

Ed was born Aug. 27, 1940, in Houston, Texas, to his Alaska-born father, Elmer E. Rasmuson and Lile Vivian (Bernard) Rasmuson.  Reared during Alaska’s territorial days, he matured during the heady “go-go years” of statehood, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and pipeline construction. Over the course of 30 years, Ed moved through the ranks of the family business — National Bank of Alaska — starting out as a teller, becoming a branch manager in Southeast Alaska, and ultimately leading the organization as chairman of the board. Along the way, he graduated from Harvard College.

In July 2000, Ed orchestrated the sale of the National Bank of Alaska to Wells Fargo. When his father died that December, the bulk of the estate was given not to the family, but instead to Rasmuson Foundation, the family foundation created by his father and grandmother in 1955. It was the first time that a fortune made in Alaska stayed in Alaska, something Ed was a firm believer in.

The sale of the family bank fueled the Foundation’s dramatic growth in assets — and giving. Over the next 20-plus years, Chairman Ed steered a rapidly evolving philanthropic organization, making it the largest private funder in Alaska. Ed liked to say the Foundation gives away on average, half a million dollars a week all over the state. He wanted Alaska nonprofits to know “we’ve got their backs.” For much of his tenure as Foundation chairman, his wife, Cathryn, was at his side as vice chair.

Cathy and Ed Rasmuson gather in 2015 with daughters Laura Emerson (at left) and Natasha von Imhof in Yakutat, the Rasmuson family’s first Alaska home back in the early 1900s. The totem pole was commissioned to honor the Foundation’s 60th anniversary and erected in collaboration with the Yakutat Tlingit Tribe. (Photo by Robert E. Johnson)

He always pushed for new and better ways to improve life for all Alaskans. He initiated efforts in Anchorage to develop world-class parks and trails, expand the Anchorage Museum, and end homelessness. Under his leadership, the Foundation invested early in the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program and the now nationally recognized Dental Health Aide Therapist Program, and it helped create Pick.Click.Give. to provide a path for all Alaskans to give. He helped communities across the state launch their own local grantmaking funds and visited with dozens of civic groups to promote Plan for Alaska, which engaged Alaskans in creating a sound fiscal future.

Since 1955, Rasmuson Foundation has provided more than $475 million in charitable donations to benefit Alaska and for regional and national projects.

Ed’s community service included the University of Alaska Board of Regents, the Anchorage Museum Foundation board, Atwood Foundation board, Rotary Club of Anchorage (three decades of perfect attendance), Elks Club, Pioneers of Alaska, Explorer’s Club, UAF Fisheries Research Center advisory board, United Way of Anchorage, and The Foraker Group.

So, how does one sum up such a life? List every goal he ever conquered? Every award he ever received? Don’t bother. Collecting plaques and statues was not his focus. His role, he told his family, is to make sure the generations that include the children and grandchildren maintain the Foundation’s philosophy of giving. He believed the Rasmuson name would endure through the Foundation’s good works.

A celebration of life is planned for the spring of 2022. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to any of the following: The Alaska Community Foundation; the Anchorage Museum; and the Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program through the University of Alaska Foundation.

[Download press release_Chairman Ed 01_06_2022 UPDATED.]

Cathy and Ed Rasmuson walk out of the Elmer E. Rasmuson Library at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in June 2021. The library is named for his father. (Photo by Kate Wool)

About the Foundation
Rasmuson Foundation aims to promote a better life for all Alaskans. Main funding areas are solutions to homelessness, health care, the arts, organizational and community development and human services including projects to address domestic violence, child abuse and services for seniors and people with disabilities. The Foundation was created in 1955 by Jenny Rasmuson to honor her late husband E.A. Rasmuson.

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