MARTHA (Kelsey) RUTHERFORD, "Marty"
MARTHA (Kelsey) RUTHERFORD, "Marty"
Martha (Marty) Kelsey Rutherford is a lifelong Alaskan who is best known for building and protecting Alaska’s natural resources through her work at the Department of Natural Resources and what was formerly the Department of Community and Regional Affairs. Rutherford’s knowledge and talent earned her key trusted roles under eight governors, Republican, Democrat, and Independent. She championed and protected Alaskan’s interests in oil and gas leasing and unitization, in major pipeline projects, at the Mental Health Trust, and as a thoughtful Board Trustee for the Alaska Permanent Fund Corporation.
Except for her college years at Pacific University in Oregon, Rutherford has spent her entire life in Alaska. Her life has been defined by many things personal and professional, but two instances stand out as defining to her. Her career and life view were influenced by Alaska’s largest natural disaster – the 1964 earthquake and subsequent tsunami in Valdez – and by Alaska’s largest man-made disaster – the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Both experiences taught Rutherford about problem-solving, perseverance in the face of adversity, the importance of community, and commitment to Alaska and its people.
For over a decade Rutherford led negotiations for the State of Alaska on potential development of Alaska’s North Slope natural gas and the pipeline system. She sat across the table from representatives of the world’s largest oil and gas companies. Most of the time there were no other women in the room.
Rutherford is viewed as one of a handful of Alaskans most knowledgeable about Alaska’s natural resources and has been involved in most of the major State of Alaska resources decisions over the last four decades.
Rutherford was born and raised in Valdez, to a 5th generation Alaska family that valued public service. Her great-great grandfather practiced law in Sitka and Juneau in late 1800’s. Her great-grandfather practiced law in Juneau and was appointed a district court judge in Kodiak.
During Rutherford’s early years in Valdez, she spent many hours listening to her parents, John and Jeannette Kelsey, host great Alaskans like Bill Egan, George Sullivan, Dan Cuddy, and Bob Reeves talking about statehood, fish traps, and the state’s challenges. She knew from a young age that she wanted to be involved in public service like her childhood heroes.
Rutherford’s daughter Kelsey Renno wrote of her mother’s early life:
“My mom’s childhood, like most Alaskans prior to Statehood, was hunting, fishing and camping and figuring out how to have fun with little to no outside entertainment- no tv, no radio, limited school activities. She did play the most popular sport – basketball – throughout her school years. She loved the competition of playing girls teams from around the Prince William Sound region. She held the honor of girls’ varsity high scorer for sophomore and junior year.”
Rutherford’s childhood was the 1964 earthquake and subsequent landslide and tsunami that wiped out Valdez. Her father was a city leader in Valdez and narrowly missed being killed on the major freight dock they owned. Her parents lost everything. At her father’s direction, Rutherford worked to clean up and help relocate Valdez. Relocating Valdez and rebuilding the dock was her family focus.
Rutherford said that she learned three very important lessons from her father, John Kelsey, that served as her guiding principles throughout her career in public service.
1) If you want the job too much, you can’t do it properly.
2) Never think of the chair you are sitting in as yours; it’s the public’s chair and you are just occupying it for a period of time.
3) Should you ever make a decision that serves your own rather than the public interest, it’s time to leave the position.
Rutherford worked on the Trans Alaska pipeline at the Valdez terminal for most of the construction. She gained responsibility quickly and became the conduit between management and field superintendents and union workers on modifications to the design of the Valdez camp and shipping facilities. She learned to work hard and successfully navigate in a totally male dominated world.
In Rutherford’s long career in public service, in both municipal and state government, she worked on many significant projects. Her work developing Alaska’s natural resources has left a deep and positive impact on the use of Alaska’s land, water, and energy resources.
In 1978, Rutherford began working for the City of Valdez as a park worker. She quickly moved up to Assistant City Manager. In 1982, Rutherford went to what was then the Department of Community and Regional Affairs, rising to the position of Deputy Commissioner. In 1991, she moved to the Department of Natural Resources as Deputy Commissioner. Throughout her tenure, Rutherford often served as acting Commissioner.
As Natural Resources Deputy Commissioner, Rutherford was instrumental in several significant projects that paved the way for Alaska’s future.
● As the liaison between the Alaska Department of Natural Resources, Department of Community and Regional Affairs, Department of Law, and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council, Ms. Rutherford was instrumental in ensuring monies from the Exxon Valdez Settlement were used to acquire title and conservation easements to protect land important to Alaska for its restoration value.
● Worked tirelessly to settle and then implement the Mental Health Trust Land Settlement, with management of the trust lands within a separate unit in the Alaska Department of Natural Resources which allowed the Mental Health Trust to benefit from the land management expertise of the department while maintaining autonomy for the management of the mental health trust lands.
Rutherford was also instrumental in several high-profile projects which contributed to building and protecting Alaska’s natural resources. Her vision and guidance on these projects led to sustainable development of Alaska’s natural resources while protecting the public’s interest as envisioned in the Alaska Constitution. These projects include:
● Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council
● University Land Settlement / Icy Bay Litigation
● Mental Health Trust Land Settlement
● Asserting RS2477 Easements across federal lands
● Implementing Statewide Land Use Area Plans for state land
● Implementing Areawide Oil & Gas Lease Sales
● Finalizing State Land Entitlement Selections from the federal government
● Alaska’s Clear and Equitable Shares (ACES)
● Alaska Gas Inducement Act (AGIA)
● The Pt. Thomson Litigation
● Amerada-Hess Oil Production Tax Litigation
Rutherford’s career was filled with high-profile work and decisions that mattered to the lives of regular Alaskans. Her career was marked by a very public decision to quit as Deputy Commissioner after a deep policy dispute with one Governor about what was in the best interest of the State. She was rehired as the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources immediately after the next Governor came into office to continue her work.
After retirement from state service, Rutherford continued to serve the State of Alaska as a trustee on the Alaska Permanent Fund Board; the only woman ever appointed to a public member seat on the Board.
In addition to her appointment to the Permanent Fund Board, Rutherford also served on the National Petroleum Council: An Oil and Natural Gas Advisory Committee to the Secretary of Energy; the Alaska Coastal Policy Council; the Western States Land Commissioners Association; and the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.
Rutherford served as role model for women both by example and by taking the time to generously share her knowledge and experience. She was inclusive, encouraging, and respectful of varying points of view and welcomed differing opinions. She actively encouraged and supported professional growth by recognizing everyone’s skill set and trusting them with challenging assignments. Her legacy continues with the women she mentored now mentoring others and passing on her advice and professionalism.
Corri Feige, Geophysicist and Engineer, and former Commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources, says of Ms. Rutherford:
“I have been fortunate to work with Marty in both the private and public sectors and learn from her years of experience in economics, policy and community. It is virtually impossible to visit a town or village anywhere in Alaska and not find at least one person who calls Marty a dear friend or valued colleague. And Marty takes the time to truly connect with the people she meets, remembering their families, their challenges, and their celebrations. Marty is a rare example of the dedication and passion that comes from truly loving a place and its people.
Marty is an inspiration. She is fearless, dedicated and always looking at how she can bring others – especially young women – along with her, taking the time to share her knowledge and experience, and never shying away from saying what she knows to be true, even if it may not be the popular view. Alaska will be forever strong and resilient if more people aspire to be like Marty Rutherford.”
Moira Smith, Natural Resource Attorney, says of Ms. Rutherford:
“As a young lawyer in the oil and gas field, I was accustomed to being in rooms full of talented and gracious men. What I wasn’t used to was being in the room with –and learning from–talented and gracious women. Watching then-Deputy Commissioner Rutherford navigate her role with grace and seeming ease helped to solidify my decision to pursue a career in the natural resources field. She was particularly influential in the State of Alaska’s pursuit of unit default for the Point Thomson Unit, an effort that ultimately resulted in a settlement that brought the majors to the table to discuss monetizing Point Thomson oil and gas. Marty’s passion for and knowledge of the natural resources field has benefited the State of Alaska now and will almost certainly have a profound effect in the decades to come. She was, and is, a role model for anyone who cares about the disposition of Alaska’s resources.”
Kelsey Renno, Ms. Rutherford’s daughter, is an accomplished young woman making her career in Aviation maintenance after graduating from UAA in 2017 with a degree in Airframe and Powerplant Mechanics. She is currently a key leader at the US Department of Interior maintaining and supervising a fleet of aircraft for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service. She says of Ms. Rutherford:
“My mom is a role model for all women. She has proven time and time again that even in difficult positions or male dominated fields, strong and determined women can rise to the occasion. Starting at a young age she always fought for what she believed. She instilled in me determination, drive, and strength to work hard for myself and our beautiful state. The incredible thing about my mom is that, though she worked hard, she still made time to celebrate her friends and family’s accomplishments.”