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GCI Cofounder Bob Walp Dies

General Communications Inc. (GCI) said Bob Walp, one of the company’s co-founders and the company’s first president, has died. He was 89.

Walp, along with Ron Duncan, founded the Alaska-based service provider in 1979, when they initially operated the company from Walp’s small apartment in Anchorage. GCI,  now a publicly-traded, multi-service company that serves about 108,900 video customers and has about 226,400 wireless lines in service, completed its first long-distance call on Thanksgiving Day 1982, the company said. 

Walp is also credited with helping to guide the development of commercial satellite communications in Alaska as the appointed director of the State of Alaska’s Office of Telecommunications. When funding for the office was eliminated in 1978, Walp turned his focus to creating competition for Alascom, which was the sole long-distance telephone service in the state at the time.

Walp originally came to Alaska in the early 1970s as a consultant on a NASA project he initiated to demonstrate telephone and television services in medicine and education, GCI said.

Walp, who earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree, both in physics, from the California Institute of Technology, retired from GCI in 1989, but continued in the role as employee emeritus for a time. In 1998, Walp was elected as a Fellow of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.

Walp is survived by his children Mary Cay, Patrick, Paul, Robert and Susan Walp.

GCI said it will remember Walp at a memorial ceremony this spring. 

“We are deeply saddened by this news, and our hearts go out to Bob’s children and the entire Walp family,” Ron Duncan, GCI president and CEO, said in a statement. “Bob was a true pioneer in the Alaska communications industry and made a major contribution to GCI’s success. Much of what we do at GCI today can be traced back to Bob’s vision and entrepreneurial spirit.”