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Austin Pritchard: Fond memories of an old friend

by: , Austin Pritchard

The news of the sudden death of Sellwood resident Austin Pritchard on March 18th spelled the end of a personal friendship for me, but it also created a gap in the 'web' that makes Sellwood-Westmoreland such an interconnected neighborhood.

He and I met more than ten years ago, when he retired from teaching marine zoology at Oregon State University and moved to Sellwood. I cannot recall if we met at a SMILE meeting or on one of my historic walking tours of the neighborhood, but when asked why he chose to relocate here, he said he was looking for a place in Portland that felt like a small town, but had access to big-city cultural amenities and good restaurants. After 'shopping around' Portland, he decided that Sellwood met his criteria - a decision he never regretted.

Although retired from regular teaching, he continued to pursue life-long interests, such as piano lessons (he especially enjoyed the challenge of dual-piano pieces, and sometimes performed with local piano teacher and PCC history professor Sylvia Gray), playing Bridge, and take-no-prisoner 'extreme' croquet games with his grown children. (The ravine in Kenilworth Park off S.E. Holgate was a favorite challenge course.) He also became involved in a spectrum of new volunteer activities, in and out of his adopted neighborhood.

Austin began driving a regular Meals on Wheels route, which expanded to include a position on the Board of Loaves and Fishes. As he made friends with long-time residents on his meal delivery route, I would sometimes get a call that began, 'Say, I met a really interesting old-timer today. Did you know about…?' On more than one occasion this led to a follow-up call, interview, and BEE story.

Austin participated in neighborhood self-governance, serving many terms on the SMILE Board and on special projects. His good nature and ability to seek middle ground (perhaps honed in years of faculty meetings) was especially valuable when an issue grew contentious, such as possible siting of a skate park in Westmoreland Park, when he served as a member of the Master Plan citizens advisory group.

He also encouraged others to pursue their volunteer projects. SMILE board and history committee member Dana Beck recalled that, 'Austin was one of the first Board members to support me in my idea of having a Christmas program in the neighborhood.' He was a stalwart of the SMILE history group, worked on a survey of historic buildings, and combed estate and garage sales for photos to add to the SMILE collection.

Every August he donned a striped shirt, bow tie and straw hat or bowler to work at the history table at Sundae in the Park in Sellwood Park. His curiosity about the natural world was not static; he was thrilled with two cruises he took to Alaska and the Galapagos Islands, and called afterwards to share the highlights. I'll miss those forty-five minute phone calls, or spontaneous discussions in front of New Seasons or Bertie Lou's Café.

Austin continued to donate his time and energy even when it was depleted by struggles with health problems. His presence and involvement will be missed. But I hope that others will be encouraged by this brief account of his time with us to step forward, choose an issue of concern, and - like him - to donate some hours to help keep the neighborhood web strong.

As Dana Beck wrote, 'I kind of picture myself as Opie Taylor walking down the old country road, with Austin as Andy, sharing his reflections on life.' I think that anyone who spent time with Austin Pritchard will understand the image, and perhaps see him walking the sidewalks of the neighborhood that he loved.