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Last Update: April 30, 2005 8:01 AM

Frank Turpin, railroad, oil leader, dies

ALASKA: Former Exxon executive served on Hickel's Cabinet.

Frank Turpin, a career oil man who went on to head the Alaska Railroad and serve as state transportation commissioner, died Thursday in Texas after a stroke. He was 82.

Turpin worked 37 years for oil giant Exxon Mobil, starting in 1947.

He finished his oil career as president of Alyeska Pipeline Service Co., an Anchorage consortium of oil companies including Exxon that own the 800-mile trans-Alaska oil pipeline. Exxon loaned out Turpin for that job in summer 1978, about a year after North Slope crude oil started moving down the line, and he worked to ramp up the flow rate toward a peak of more than 2 million barrels a day.

In 1985, Turpin became the first chief executive of the Alaska Railroad after the federal government sold it to the state for $22.3 million.

Five years later, newly elected Gov. Wally Hickel made Turpin his first Cabinet choice, appointing him transportation commissioner. Turpin held the post until 1993, when he retired.

According to friends, Turpin died in Houston, where one of his five children lives, but made his home in Kerrville, Texas, northwest of San Antonio.

"Turpin was a man that you could trust," said Hickel, reached Friday evening at his Anchorage home. "He understood what I call the owner state, the government's obligation to the land. He understood it and he did a good job."

Hickel said he met Turpin in the years leading up to development of the enormous oil discovery at Prudhoe Bay.

"He was very influential in our state," recalled Eagle River resident Vivian Hamilton, a public relations employee under Turpin at Alyeska as well as the railroad.

She remembered Turpin, born in Bluefield, W.Va., as respectful, measured in his words and actions, and a good storyteller. He had a passion for golf and kept a summer house on the Kenai Peninsula for fishing.

"He was a tremendous person to work for because you always had an opportunity to express your opinion," Hamilton said. "You don't get that all the time with your bosses. He was willing to listen to all sides."

She recalled how Turpin took over the railroad on the first day of state ownership.

"The transfer occurred on Jan. 5, 1985," she said. "He went to work that day. All the employees received an employee ID number, and his was Number 1 and mine was Number 5."

Turpin grappled with some controversy during his time in state service. One was the railroad's plan to use herbicides to control weeds on the tracks, Hamilton said. Another was his involvement with Hickel's attempt to bulldoze a rough road along the remote Copper River to Cordova.

But he was a sharp businessman and solved other nettlesome issues, Hamilton said. One he was proud of, she said, was pulling the railroad's seven labor unions under one contract, greatly simplifying negotiations.

Turpin leaves five children, 18 grandchildren and four great grandchildren. He waspreceded in death by his wife, Mary Hope Turpin.

Daily News reporter Wesley Loy can be reached at wloy@adn.com or 257-4590.