The Tibetan Buddhist monks of Seattle’s Sakya Monastery are holding prayer vigils for Jerry Fabrizio this week. The reclusive gold miner who practiced Tibetan Buddhism for over forty years and helped build and maintain the monastery in the mine’s off season, died at his Nugget Hill mining camp August 4. Results of an autopsy are pending. His brother Phil Lockerman believes the cause was natural. Fabrizio was 72.
Fabrizio came to Alaska from Seattle with a friend in the mid 70s, hoping to teach school, and camped on the northern slope of Mt. McKinley for a summer, falling in love with remote Alaskan life. He discovered the Chilkat Valley shortly afterward. Fabrizio’s stepfather, uncles, and brothers were miners and geologists, and he took up the family trade here and spent the rest of his life prospecting seasonally and returning to Seattle and his faith community for winters.
Fabrizio worked at several mines in the Porcupine River area in the 1970s, and in 1980 staked claims on 640 mountain acres and about another hundred acres further downstream, and formed the Snow Lion Mining II LTD partnership of which he was the general partner, or chief officer, until recently.
Phil Lockerman, who was a partner with his brother, said Jerry was more of a prospector than a miner. “He enjoyed looking for the gold, and doing the scientific stuff on it. I believe without a doubt that Jerry knew more about the geological history of the Porcupine River drainage and the mining history of that place than any other person.”
JoAnn Ross-Cunningham said Fabrizio chose to live away from most society, but became impassioned when it came to finding gold and talking about it. “It was like a dam bursting,” she said. He told her and other friends and family that his goal was to use the mine profits to help feed “hungry children” around the world. She said Fabrizio was a convert to Buddhism who took it so seriously that he went to India to see the Bodhi tree, where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment.
Jan Hill’s late husband, Jim, worked with Fabrizio at the Nugget Hill mine site, and she sometimes joined them as camp cook. “Jerry had a dream, it was always 'when' he struck gold, not 'if.' He believed the gold was there and new technology would get to it, and that he was the person who would make it happen,” she said.
Fabrizio’s mine is nearly inaccessible. “He had a comfortable, but very basic camp. There are few people who could live like Jerry did,” Hill said. He often worked alone, especially the last ten years. Hill said he may have had bear encounters, but he would never shoot one. “He was a Buddhist. He didn’t kill things. Even mosquitoes. He fed the squirrels. Jerry was a gentle soul.”
Lockerman said Fabrizio brought his faith to camp in other ways. He prayed for an hour morning and evening, strung Tibetan prayer flags, built small shrines, and kept incense burning. Fabrizio worked mostly with only a pick and shovel. “It was arduous and repetitive work so he’d be saying mantras all day long,” Lockerman said.
In 1995 Fabrizio traveled with a group from the Sakya monastery to Nepal where he met the Dalai Lama. “Jerry got his personal blessing,” Phil Lockerman said.
As to if Fabrizio found the gold he sought, his brother says, “Jerry may have been very eccentric, but he wasn’t stupid. All indications are that he found the lode source of the Porcupine gold.”
Jerry Fabrizio was born in April 1942 to Elmer Fabrizio and Elizabeth Jane Garrett Fabrizio in Denver, and raised primarily by his mother’s second husband, Bernard Lockerman. His mother was ill much of his childhood and his father worked in Greenland, so the children were sent to the Garrett family farm in the Colorado’s San Luis Valley where he learned to love the outdoors. Jerry graduated from South Mountain High School in Tucson and at 18 reunited with his father, a crane operator in Seattle, attended some college, then joined the Air Force, where he discovered a talent for foreign languages, and was sent to the University of Indiana Bloomington to learn Russian and German. He was stationed in Germany, intercepting East German and Soviet communications during the Cold War, his brother said. After his discharge, he returned to Seattle, worked for the postal service and earned a Masters degree in English from the University of Washington. It was during this time that he chanced to ride in an UW elevator with two Buddhist monks, and when he stepped off had decided to follow their faith. Fabrizio also apprenticed and became a marine carpenter and boat builder. “From finish carpentry to replacing planks, he did it all,” Phil, said, including working on John Wayne’s yacht. Fabrizio married and divorced, and met Eugenia Cooper, also a Buddhist. They never wed but had a daughter, Olivia Fabrizio.
Phil Lockerman said his brother’s will requests all Fabrizio’s interest in the mine and future revenues be used to create a foundation to feed hungry children.
“I would very much like to make that happen. To travel the world and establish some places where kids can get food and shelter,” Lockerman said.
There will be a service at the Sakya Monastery this fall. Fabrizio leaves brothers Philip Lockerman of Haines and Robert Charles Lockerman of Washington D.C., daughter Olivia Fabrizio of Seattle and two stepsisters.
“More than anything he loved the peace and tranquility. The mine is a very beautiful place, and you could be in any century up there. He died doing what he wanted to do, up on the mountain he dearly loved. Most of us don’t get to have that choice,” Lockerman said.