Council, Mary Lee
by Katie Hurley
Walter Wooten Council was born in Council, North Carolina in 1882, and received his medical degree from the University of Virginia in 1905. He married Virginia Scurry, a nurse, in 1907. Dr. Council moved to Alaska in 1906, to be a surgeon for the Ellamar Mining Co. until 1911, from 1911 to 1927 he was the surgeon for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway in Cordova. The couple had two daughters, Nancy and Mary Lee. The Councils divorced in the early twenties and Virginia and the girls lived in Seattle until Nancy’s illness caused them to move to the Bay area in California. Mary Lee attended high school in Berkeley and college at the University of California. Dr. Council moved to Juneau around 1930, and he established the Juneau Medical and Surgical Clinic in 1936. Mary Lee visited him often during summers and made friends with Missy Mullen, Carol Robertson, Annabelle and Robert Simpson. Dr. Council died in 1943.
Mary Lee worked as a secretary for Pan American World Airways in San Francisco from 1937-1940, when she accepted a job as Administrative Assistant to Delegate Tony Dimond. When Delegate Dimond retired from Congress in 1945, she continued working on the hill as Administrative Assistant to Delegate E.L. Bartlett. When Alaska became a state, she was Senator Bartlett’s Administrative Assistant, one of two women on a senator’s staff to carry that title in 1959. She retired in 1967, to spend more time with her aging mother. She worked in the private sector until she was 65 and she and her mother often traveled to the British Isles. Mary Lee’s mother, Virginia, died at 99.
The honor Mary Lee cherished was the Alaska Press Club award for her weekly newsletter which she wrote for all those years. She was an expert on the appropriation bills and many staffers on the appropriation committee would consult with her, and many senator’s staff would consult with her to find out exactly what was in the bill for them!
She had a special relationship with Senator “Scoop” Jackson of Washington. She came up with an amendment to the Federal State Highway Act for which both Senators Bartlett and Jackson credited her on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Jackson said, “This should be called the Mary Lee Council amendment.” It was passed and Alaska has benefited in millions of dollars in highway money over the years. The amendment included the Marine Highway in our road system.
She loved to dance. She didn’t cook. Her mother was a marvelous cook and entertained beautifully for her. Virginia was very supportive and shared Mary Lee’s enthusiasm and loyalty to her two bosses, Tony and Bob, and their families.
Mary Lee adored her half-sister, Carol Ann, from Dr. Council’s marriage to Alleine Apland, a teacher. She was a confidante of many. She had many friends with whom she corresponded regularly, and kept in touch with people she cared for as far back as when she first went to Washington in 1940.
Mary Lee made her last trip to Alaska in 1991, on a cruise which stopped in Juneau and her friends had a party for her at Carol Robertson Eastaugh’s home at Auke Bay. She died in 1992 at age 77.