The recent death of Oregon Senator Mark O. Hatfield leaves Oregonians sad and reflective. We mourn not only for his family’s personal loss. We also grieve for our own sense of civic diminishment, and the passing from our public stage of someone for whom the term “public service” had such deep and abiding meaning.
No other elected official in Oregon history can – and perhaps, never will -- so aptly deserve to wear the mantle of the term “statesman.” In a half-century career as an engaged citizen, Oregon elected official, and U.S. Senator, Mark O. Hatfield spoke out against injustices at home and around the world: racial discrimination in 1950s-era Oregon; a tragically mis-guided war in SE Asia; a world-endangering nuclear arms race. He repeatedly stood up for his principles, even when it meant being ostracized by party colleagues or risking his political career. Yet throughout, he also held true to his bedrock belief in the core values of civility and thoughtful discourse – truly precious commodities that seem all too imperiled in today’s public life.
Senator Hatfield’s signature acts of public leadership and courage, however visible and notable, are only one side of his remarkable legacy. Perhaps even more enduring will be the many lives he touched and inspired, on so many levels.
Literally thousands of Oregonians worked for, and served alongside, Senator Hatfield over the decades –sharing in his many legislative victories as well as lonely battles. Not one, but several generations of Oregonians came of age during Senator Hatfield’s storied career. Many of them today continue to be inspired by his values, carrying on his work through their own service in the public, non-profit, and private sectors.
Over the same decades, countless more Oregonians were touched by his many acts of personal kindness and thoughtfulness. Whether it was a personal note to an ordinary Oregonian to share a condolence or commemorate a special occasion; a thoughtful word of advice to a young student; or a sympathetic ear lent to someone wrestling with their own moral choices and political dilemmas, Senator Hatfield keenly understood that politics was ultimately about people and our collective sense of citizenship and community. Treat everyone with respect, he believed; today’s bitter antagonist might become tomorrow’s friend and ally in another important cause.
In our many acts – be they of visible courage or quiet, unseen grace and generosity– is the life of our community truly written. Please pause, as you are able, to take a few minutes to share your stories and thoughts -- not just about the reach and impact of Senator Hatfield’s life, but how his example of public service can continue to inspire Oregonians and enrich our public and private lives for years to come.
Center for Public Service
Mark O. Hatfield School of Government