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The last great statesman

Former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield dies Sunday, leaving behind legacy of service to Oregon
by: Archive photo Former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield: 1922 - 2011

With the Aug. 7 death of former U.S. Sen. Mark Hatfield, many from around the state - and across party lines - have poured praise for the legendary Republican lawmaker for his role in shaping the Oregon we know today.

With conviction, compassion and sheer political moxie, Hatfield, 89, is seen as the gold standard for elected officials and Oregon's last great statesman.

'This is a huge loss for Oregon,' said State Sen. Betsy Johnson, a longtime family friend of Hatfield who recalled many fond memories of the 30-year Senator.

One of the last times Johnson saw the ailing Hatfield was at his Portland home, surrounded by pictures showing the former Governor and Secretary of State with his arm around Presidents and other history makers. Yet, despite his political status, Johnson said Hatfield remained a modest man who would pay intimate attention to you with a true caring heart no matter your prominence or power.

'It was very clear he was beginning to decline, but he still recognized me and he was so warm and wanted to know what was happening in Salem,' Johnson said through sobs.

A political hybrid

Hatfield was born to a Democratic father and Republican mother July 12, 1922, in Dallas, Ore., before moving to Salem early in his childhood. Hatfield earned an undergraduate degree from Willamette University and joined the Navy to serve during World War II. He was one of the first Americans to enter Hiroshima after the atomic bomb devastated the city.

After returning from the war, Hatfield earned his master's degree in political science from Stanford and began his foray into Oregon politics.

After serving as both a state representative and state senator, Hatfield became the Oregon's youngest Secretary of State in 1957 at the age of 34. Just two years later, Hatfield became governor, a position that he would hold for two terms.

After completing his stint as governor, Hatfield won the election to serve in the U.S. Senate in 1967, a position he held until retiring in 1997.

In his entire political career, Hatfield never lost an election.

'Next to my father, there was no man that I loved or admired more than Mark Hatfield, and he left us each with a wonderful gift of our most cherished impression of him. Because of him, I am a better citizen and better friend,' said Mary Hart, Hatfield's longtime secretary.

Shaping the future

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon, who interned for Hatfield as a young man and eventually was elected into his former seat, said the politician played an enormous role in making Oregon what it is today.

'His hands were at work in the development of so many institutions we treasure as Oregonians, from the Oregon Health and Science University, to the Mark Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, to the Opal Creek Wilderness, to name just a few,' Merkley said.

What made Hatfield so popular was not just what he got done, but how he did it.

'He was the essence of bi-partisanship. He was always working with his own party and the Democrats to get things done,' said Kerry Tymchuck, executive director of the Oregon Historical Society.

One of the biggest issues that faced Hatfield during his tenure was the ongoing war between conservationists and the state's timber industry.

'Mark was very knowledgeable on the importance of the timber industry within the state and the jobs it involved, but he was also very motivated to keep Oregon the beautiful place that it is being that he was a native son,' longtime aid Gerry Frank said.

His legacy lives on

As news of Hatfield's death spread over the weekend, Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, summed up Hatfield's legacy in a statement released Monday.

'Sen. Hatfield was never one to be driven by party affiliation or ideological litmus tests. He was religious but not intolerant. Idealistic but not naive. A politician but not partisan. He was willing to stand alone, but never one to grandstand,' Wyden said.

Hatfield is survived by his wife, Antoinette, who Johnson said helped make the man who he was, their four children and several grandchildren.