Gerald Masolini. Photo courtesy of Robert Masolini

By Robert Masolini                             

A great Alaskan, the well-known, well-loved, and well-respected Gerald Peter Masolini of Cordova passed onto his next adventure on Sept. 25, 2023. He was 77 years young.  

My dad Gerald was born in 1946 in Fort Bragg, California to a ranching and hunting family. Adventure was in his blood. He grew up hunting, fishing, trapping, ranching, and diving for abalone along the coast. Family headquarters was at Wages Creek, Mendocino County, where the creek full of brook trout and silver salmon empties into the the Pacific Ocean, with surf perpetually pounding the beaches, and the endless view South, West, and North to more endless ocean. I believe the ocean compelled and called to his adventurous spirit as a kid.  

At 18 years old he bought a small salmon trolling boat to fish the northern California coastal waters. At 19, he took his little boat out of Noyo Harbor, Fort Bragg, and pointed it north to Alaska. North to an unknown paradise. As a kid who wanted the best hunting and fishing in the world, Alaska was it. The stories he told about that first trip north sounded pretty exciting: the ocean calling him north to a place of anchoring his boat in coves with brown bears, deer, and glass balls on the beach, stopping in Native Villages, motoring his way up the coast into longer daylight and into the land of the midnight sun until he reached Cordova. Cordova, with its fishing opportunities to make a living, and a vast backdrop of mountains and wetlands full of game to hunt.  

In Cordova he quickly established himself as a full-time fisherman and as a hard- working kid the locals trusted and liked. He was an astute observer and listener to the old-timers of Cordova back in the good old days. Where to fish and hunt, and where the best places for a kid like him were. As a fisherman he liked hooks and pots better than nets, so halibut and Dungeness crab were his primary targets. On land he frequently hunted deer on the islands of Prince William Sound, moose on the Delta, mountain goats up in the alpine, and bears, ducks, geese, and cranes.  

The Cordova area was different then, even wilder than it is now. This appealed to the urgent sense of adventure of his youth. He would often tell stories of distant mountains, rivers, and lakes that he would walk to overland with his ever-present .375 H&H Winchester rifle. His stories were full of modestly told danger, wildlife encounters, animals hunted, and sights of unbelievable beauty. He told me once that he carried and dragged a dingy-style boat miles from the old Copper River Highway to Saddlebag Lake so he could paddle across and hunt mountain goats above the glacier on the far side, then hauled the boat and goats back to the road. There wasn’t a trail then, or even the road which is there now that takes you inland to the trailhead, just thick brush through the trees. To him it wasn’t miserable. It was tough and that’s what made it great. His fortitude and ability to live in the moment with a here-and-now outlook enabled him to withstand hardships and “spin straw into gold,” an innate mental ability that he would have his entire life up until the end. 


In the late 70s my dad married Diana, who many of you fondly remember. Diana would later become my mother and mother figure to many wayward sons of Cordova. My dad and her created Eyak Packing in 1980, the year my older brother Peter was born. Eyak Packing was a small salmon custom processing cannery along Odiak Slough with about 14 crew, six big wooden smokehouses, and one retort for pressure cooking canned salmon from May to September. The fish smoking technique was taught to my dad by Sophie Borodkin, the second to last full-blood Eyak. In September, after the last salmon was canned, the cannery became the butcher shop where my dad would process the moose of Cordova’s successful hunters. After the last moose was processed each year, he would have his favorite apple orchard in northern California ship him 20,000 pounds of apples to Eyak Packing, which he would sell and give away to fellow Cordovans. During winter months, Eyak Packing became a place of many deer skinned and hung, as well as a skinning, stretching, and drying facility for furbearers from the traplines.  

My dad ran Eyak Packing full time for 18 years until 1998. At that time in his life the call of the wild was strong. He was approached by a government department who needed resilient trappers to remove Arctic foxes from the Western Aleutian Islands, one of the most remote, wild, and weather-beaten places on earth. The foxes were introduced by Russians in the fur industry in the 1700s. The result was the extinction of some native bird species, along with other species becoming endangered, including the Aleutian Cackling Goose. The foxes had dwindled the goose numbers to around 1,000 birds. My dad agreed to help with this mission with his classic stoic excitement, hunting and trapping myriads of islands, more remote than most people can imagine. After five years of hunting and camping out there and having countless amazing experiences in those wild places, the goose population rose to about 120,000 birds, a tremendous success. At the end of those five wild, incredible years, another chapter of his life was just beginning, one that gave him the opportunity to teach us all about stoicism and toughness — cancer. 

At 56 years old he was diagnosed and given about two years to live. But what the doctors did not account for, nor did the cancer trying to kill him, was his immeasurable fortitude. His undying, positive toughness. His everlasting humor, and his never-say-die attitude. His strength of outlook and willpower. He didn’t make it two years, he made it almost 22 years. During those years he helped the younger guys to hunt and trap. He worked summers with younger friends on Gus Linville’s seine boat as cook. He became famous for his world-class cooking, especially out on the water. Tales traveled far and wide of his excellent meals. A cookbook with his stories and recipes was published by Cordovans, titled Great Things By Gerald (which he did not name, being much too modest for that title). In these times he taught us, the younger generation. As we came of age, he was there guiding us and mentoring us. He showed us how to see the world, the right perspectives to have, how to live in the moment, to go on adventures, and enjoy the little things in life. His cancers grew in size and number, but they were still no match for his radiant positivity and toughness. At one point he had six kinds of cancer. But not once, ever, did I hear a negative word or see a sullen look in his two decades of cancer. Only that wise old tough guy twinkle in his eye, and his saying “full steam ahead.” 

In his last few days, which were in Fort Bragg at his amazing sister Michele’s house, he spoke of friends young and old. He talked about deer – big bucks in the hills – of immense and memorable flocks of migrating waterfowl, and untouched ocean beaches full of glass balls. The doctor that would come to the house and check on him said in regards to his toughness and will to live: “science needs to study him. He is beyond tough.”  

Local Cordovan Jim Smith also put it well: “There needs to be a new, stronger word for ‘tough’ because of him.” At 9:47 a.m. Sept. 25, the greatest man I have ever known took his last breath. He fought right up until that moment, never giving up, never anything less than “full steam ahead.” 

To those reading this, almost all of us know the feeling of losing someone. It’s a distinct feeling. With my dad it’s different. The distinct feeling now is that he went on another one of his grand adventures into an unknown paradise and I’m too young to go with him. The exact feeling of when I was too young to accompany him to the Aleutians. Maybe this distinct feeling is because of the last conversation I had with him. We were talking about an imagined beach, full of glass balls, lots of driftwood for fires, deer in the hills, cranes flying overhead under the Northern Lights and stars, and all the while, the roar of the never-ending surf. As we spoke of this place, life faded from him, and he became aware of something ethereal. Light of adventure sparked in his eyes. He said, gazing into that ethereal distance I couldn’t see, “I can see them. I can see those glass balls. I can hear the sound they make as they roll in the surf.” I squeezed his hand and told him, “keep the campfire warm for me.” Then, the last thing he ever told me, in his wise, reassuring way, was “I will.” 

Gerald Masolini will be remembered as being an adventurer, a hunter, a stellar accordion player, and a brilliant naturalist. He will be remembered as a fatherly, caring figure and friend to most of Cordova, and to many people and family in northern California. He will be remembered for his compassion, kindness, and fairness. He will be remembered for his positivity and toughness, a light for Cordovans when times are dark. He will be remembered. Gerald is survived by his wonderful wife Sue whose care for him and his family will never be forgotten, his sons Peter and Robert, his amazing sister Michele, and his granddaughters Amelia and Morea. He is also survived by his countless friends of all ages, who learned from him a better, magical way of life.  

His Celebration of Life will be next May in Cordova. Exact time and place to be announced.