This profile of former UAS student Rob Mourant appeared in the UAS student newspaper, Whalesong. By Eileen Wagner
The Mourant Building is the only building at UAS to be named for a student. Rob Mourant received his bachelor of business administration in 1981 from UAS, and just a few months later was killed in a plane crash. His fellow students began a campaign to have the building then under construction named for him, and the University of Alaska Board of Regents approved.
"Rob was always a leader, always into politics," said his sister, Roxy Mourant Kohler. As a student at both UAA and UAJ, he organized student government associations and was elected the first student body president at both institutions. He was a founding member of the statewide Alaska Student Lobby. His lobbying resulted in funding for both the UAA Commons, and the building named for him at UAS.
Mourant had accomplished more by the age of 23 than many people do in a lifetime.
Talking to parents Louise and Bob Mourant, one begins to get a picture of the influences on this young man. They are people of strong opinions, and not shy about expressing them. They are people of irrepressible high spirits, who can laugh heartily over memories of family hijinks, and yet recount the tragic loss of two of their three children.
Their second son, Randy, died after surgery at the age of 20, just two years before Rob's death.
Rob's sister, Roxy, remembers that their Auke Lake home was always full of teenage friends, except on Sunday night when it was family powwow time, and no company was allowed. Since family members were active in both Democratic and Republican parties, the dinner table was a place of "lively discussion," according to his mother.
With three teenagers in the family, each a year apart, there was bound to be plenty of activity. Roxy recalls sailing, water skiing, scuba diving, and ice skating on Auke Lake. Rob was active in scouting and several sports, and was always believed to be older than he was, having reached the height of 6-foot-2 by sixth grade.
"Rob could always get people to follow him to do crazy things," his sister said, recalling a movie he and a friend, Steve Messerschmidt, made of themselves dressed up like cannibals going after a ferry at Eagle Beach.
His mother told a story about a Halloween prank Rob pulled on Governor Hammond after accompanying the Hammond family on a weekend camping trip. He put an outhouse on the front porch of the Governor's Mansion. "He was always spunky," she said, "but he had the good sense not to get into trouble."
Rob's father, Bob Mourant, was state president of Alaska Public Employees Association, and very active in negotiating and lobbying for employee rights during the Hammond and Egan administrations. "It rubbed off on Rob, and he became active in organizing student government at the university," said his father. "He was responsible not only for obtaining funding for the Mourant Building by lobbying, and getting to know a lot of the legislators personally, but also many of the rights and privileges that UA students enjoy today came about because of Rob's activities with local government."
His sister, Roxy, said that the Great Alaska Shootout, the yearly basketball tournament at UAA, had been organized by Rob. When the partially-built student center on the Anchorage campus had been shut down because of lack of funding, Rob's lobbying efforts produced the money needed to open it.
"He knew how to do it!," said his mother. "You get a certain amount of politics just living in Juneau, you can't help it."
Rob married Sandy Riddell, daughter of local dentist Norman Riddell. After his retirement, Dr. Riddell began developing a fish hatchery on Chichagof Island, and asked Rob to help him. Also working on the project were Riddell's son and his wife. The four of them died when the plane, piloted by Dr. Riddell, was lost somewhere off the west side of Chichagof Island. Even after an intensive search, neither the plane nor its occupants were ever seen again.
The accident took place in the summer of 1981. When students returned to the Auke Lake campus in the fall, the loss of this immensely popular student leader was in the forefront of everyone's thoughts. Students began a campaign to name the student center then under construction for Rob Mourant, and the Board of Regents approved.
At the time of the dedication of the building, Professor Wayne Roberts said, "I knew Rob as a student and a friend too. He was an honest, warm and intelligent young man. . . . I envisioned him as a future political leader in Alaska." And fellow student and friend Jim Slocum said, "As long as I knew Rob he was always politically active. . . . He was never too busy to listen to complaints or concerns and act as an advocate."
The Mourant Building houses the cafeteria, bookstore, student government offices, and student newspaper offices. "It's very appropriate to have the cafeteria in the Mourant Building," Louise Mourant observed wryly. "I can still hear the sound of the refrigerator door opening 15 minutes after dinner."