FEW MINUTES on the phone with Wally Hickel and it all comes back. The voice like a comfortable, well-worn tweed suit, the frequent chuckle, the openness to questions, like a rush of fresh Alaska air, a blast that was just plain fresh so far as President Nixon was concerned.
It's been seven years since Hickel was fired (after two years in office) as Nixon's Secretary of the Interior because he spoke out against the Vietnam war and chided the President about ignoring the antiwar voices of the American People.
"The President just didn't want to hear about it," said the Kansas-born millionaire ("Everyone else calls me that, you might as well, too") from his Hickel Investment Corp. office in Anchorage. "I really thought I was doing a good job for the President and the American people, just being pure Wally Hickel."
Pure Wally Hickel pauses a minute and then chuckles. "I'm looking at two chairs here in my office. One I call the hiring chair, it's black; the other I call the firing chair, it's brown. I sat in a black chair when I was hired by the President and a brown chair when I was fired." His laugh is colored most by what sounds like a good sense of the ironic. "If I did it again tomorrow, I'd the same way."
While Walter J. Hickel talks openly about his firing, a word he uses directly instead of euphemisms like "dismissal," he's just as soon get on to something else, "I just don't like to get bogged down in the past; I have to keep going."
What he wants to talk about is the environment and energy, subjects that have him out of the speaking circuit about once a month. "I'll be right down in President Carter's territory (chuckle) on Tuesday. I'll be speaking in Atlanta on what I call 'The Practical Environmentalist.'" And then he launches into a rather passionate speech Excerpts:
"God didn't make this world to run out of resources, the only thing we need is the will . . . High prices and high taxes and getting everybody fighting with each other just won't fly . . . There's no way we can buy ourselves out of this one . . . We have to produce, look for alternatives like fossil fuel . . .
"The energy program of President Carter is going to be his Vietnam War. He's got to listen to the American people.
"Hey," Hickel stops himself. "I have no bad feelings about Carter and I'm not making a speech. I'm just concerned about the energy problem."
What the former Alaska governor is "only thinking about" these days is running again for governor, a post he resigned to join the Nixon Cabinet and for which he lost a bid in 1974."If I had to make the decision today, I'd say no."
Hickel admits he misses " the opportunity of getting things done" in Washington, "but not living there."
"I'm looking out now on horizon-to-horizon blue." His voice fades as he spins from window to window. "From here I can see the Chugach range, and from here the Alaskan range and from here, the Talkeetna range. Living here is like being reborn again every day." He calls himself "a damn young 58."
"Let me see, what am I wearing? Charcoal-gray, big-check, with pale British tan and red lines. With a necktie and shirt are just perfect.
"Privately," he says, "I'm just running my business" (hotels and shopping centers.) He's finishing up a 20-story addition to his now 662-room Captain Cook Hotel ("It has five restaurants, seven banquet rooms and 20 shops")in Anchorage and has just opened a new shopping center in Fairbanks.
Hickel's usual office is "the little white house" overlooking Cook Inlet. "It's always been called 'the little white house on Third Avenue.' It's little and white. When I came back from Washington I didn't have a place to hang my hat, so we redid it. It has leaded-glass windows, gables, a fireplace. Oh, it's wonderful."
And the last time he heard from President Nixon.?
"He sent me a book by his daughter Julie. It's called 'Special People."'