Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Mildred Perkins was a pistol

Bud Clark's mom, Mildred Perkins, died last Saturday morning. She was 92 years old, and for the past two weeks she'd been hallucinating and in pain. 'I know how it sounds,' Bud says, 'but I'm glad she went. She had a good life.'

The mother of Portland's most popular mayor was born in 1910 in Payette, Idaho, just across the Oregon border from Ontario. Her people had come out West in covered wagons. In later years, she talked a lot about how much things had changed over the course of her life.

When she was 3, she was out riding in the family carriage when a car came by and spooked the horses. She was bounced out of the carriage, and the wheel of the buggy ran over her calf. It didn't break anything, because her bones were so flexible then, but it left an indentation that never went away. That indentation was all the proof she needed.

After finishing high school in nearby Fruitland, Idaho, she went to work across the state line in La Grande. There she had a romance with Bud's dad. But when it came time for Bud to be born, she went back to Idaho. That was in 1931, so she was 21 at the time Ñ about 5-foot-4, easy to look at and free-spirited in the way Western girls can sometimes be.

In 1984, when Bud, then the proprietor of the Goose Hollow Tavern, got it in his head to run for mayor, he tried to make the case that he was actually a native Oregonian because he'd been conceived in La Grande. Mildred told him: 'I wish you'd quit telling that story. It makes it sound like a one-night stand.' Bud still gets a kick out of telling it.

• • •

In 1937, after a divorce from Bud's father, Mildred moved to Portland, where she got a job as a typist with the Farm Security Administration. Bud, who was 6 then, recalls living in apartments with fold-up beds that you'd wheel out of the closets at night. Rent was $27.50 a month, but she always had enough for new nylons.

By the end of World War II, Mildred had a business of her own. In those days, all big hotels had what they called a 'public stenographer,' and Mildred bought the public stenographer's desk at the Multnomah Hotel. There she took dictation and typed letters for prominent politicians, including Sen. Hubert Humphrey, who stayed there.

When the hotel closed, she opened a telephone-answering and typing service in the Morgan Building. In later years, she worked as what we would now call a 'temp' for various businesses and government agencies Ñ including the Legal Aid office on Union Avenue, where a young Neil Goldschmidt was then employed.

She always said that of all the famous officials and politicians she'd taken dictation from, Goldschmidt was the best. 'He always spoke in perfect sentences.'

Mildred, who acquired the surname Perkins in 1975 when she married an electrician, Dick Perkins, didn't stop working until 1980. She continued to drive an old VW bus until about a year ago, when her health started failing and she had to move into a nursing home.

That lasted about two weeks Ñ or until Bud got a call from the home telling him to come get her because she was too cantankerous to deal with.

And so, for the past year, Bud took care of her in a duplex he bought for her near his home on Northwest Northrup. He was amazed, he says, to discover that right up until the end, she drank about a case and a half of beer a week.

Appropriately enough, the family will hold a wake for her at the Goose, next Monday starting about 3 p.m.