Dorothy Stafford receives an honorary doctorate from Lewis & Clark

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Dorothy Stafford chats with Canadian Sen. Roméo Dallaire during a special event at Lewis & Clark earlier this month.Lewis & Clark College has bestowed upon Dorothy Hope Stafford an honorary doctorate for her years of support to the school, including a gift of her husband’s renowned poetry.

He was the Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress in 1970, a position that now begins with two little words most people probably know well: Poet Laureate.

Dorothy Stafford and her children in 2008 bequeathed to the Lewis & Clark Special Collections Department 20,000 pages of William Stafford’s daily writing, 3,000 publications and 10,000 photo negatives. The school will celebrate his 100th birthday next year.Dorothy Stafford

“We were offered money, quite a bit, but we decided they belonged there,” Dorothy (Frantz) Stafford said of the gift.

William Stafford taught at Lewis & Clark from 1948 to 1980, and, as a professor’s wife, Dorothy Stafford was a part of the academic community, Lewis & Clark Head of Special Collections and Archivist Doug Erickson said.

Dorothy Stafford’s daughters graduated from the school, and one of her sons teaches there. She always has been a supporter and ambassador of the school, Erickson said.

“She was at the genesis of this institution — she represents its very beginnings to where it is today,” he said. “By giving her an honorary doctorate here, it’s an opportunity to showcase and honor a living embodiment of who we are and what we did.”

She said she isn’t quite sure why the school held a ceremony for her earlier this month and gave her a degree, but she was touched.

“Well, I thought of my husband who worked so many years to get his Ph.D. and my son who worked so many years to get a Ph.D., and mine just came over my shoulders like a rainbow,” she said. “It doesn’t seem quite fair.”

In her husband’s poem, “Passing Remark,” he touches on her humility, calling his wife “a vivid girl from the mountains.”

She asks why he chose her. He said: “There are so many things admirable people do not understand.”

Celebrated poet Paulann Petersen counts Dorothy Stafford as a dear friend whose friendship she cherishes.

“As Oregon’s Poet Laureate, I get to be an ambassador for poetry,” Petersen said. “I go to many events, and I know — firsthand — the far-reaching effect that Dorothy Stafford has on many, many people in our community of readers and writers.

“Dorothy is a spiritual light in our community. She offers invaluable support and respect to writers. She champions the famous and obscure alike. Her presence at readings and gatherings is a pure joy to everyone there.”

Dorothy Stafford, now 97, supports many local groups, including public libraries, Oregon Public Broadcasting and the Portland Art Museum. For 20 years, she volunteered at the Lake Oswego Public Library.

A graduate of La Verne College, now called University of La Verne, she served as a schoolteacher, spending 10 years at Lake Grove Elementary School and 10 years at Forest Hills Elementary School. She retired in 1983.

“I can’t believe I’m this old,” she said. “You feel the same old way.”

She and her husband raised four children of their own, two sons and two daughters. She has seven grandchildren.

Her son, Kim Stafford, is an associate professor of writing and the director of the Northwest Writing Institute of Lewis & Clark, carrying on the family's devotion to the school.

Kim Stafford wrote a book about his father, Early Morning: Remembering My Father, William Stafford, which includes a chapter called "The Bond," an homage to his parents' special connection.

"My father had this other life of writing before dawn, and wide travel," Kim Stafford said. "He traveled for poetry readings all over the world. And mother was the friend at home who connected socially with neighbors and family and friends."

The Nebraska-born woman moved to Lake Oswego in 1957, remaining until three years ago when she moved to Terwilliger Plaza, a retirement community in Portland.

“I loved Oswego, everything about it,” she said.

She said she is in good health.

“I can’t believe it, but I am still having a lovely time and don’t hurt anywhere,” she said.

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