Farewell to Senator Mark O. Hatfield

Mark O. Hatfield

Senator Mark O. Hatfield ’43 passed away peacefully this evening (Aug. 7, 2011) at the age of 89.  He was a beloved son of Willamette University — a student, professor, dean and trustee. He was also a beloved son of Oregon. Elected the youngest secretary of state and the youngest governor in the state’s history, Senator Hatfield went on to serve five terms in the United States Senate — our longest-serving senator. Throughout his distinguished political career, he never lost an election.

Son of a railroad blacksmith father and schoolteacher mother, Mark Hatfield was a freshman at Willamette when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. He enlisted immediately. After the atom bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, the young naval officer was one of the first to walk the moonscape that remained. That walk changed the course of his life. Charred bodies and utter destruction lay in every direction, he said, and silence was overlaid with the stench of death.

That day, Mark Hatfield devoted his life to peace. He returned to civilian life, taught at Willamette, served as dean, ran for political office and advanced to the upper echelons of political power, but he never lost sight of his fierce commitment to peace.

Mark Hatfield broke ranks with fellow Republicans with an early and ardent opposition to the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, eventually co-authoring the legislation that brought the troops home from Vietnam. He also co-authored the bill that halted underground nuclear testing in Nevada. Senator Hatfield believed that lasting national security is not achieved through military might alone, but only possible when people have access to education, health care, housing and job opportunities.

Many remember Senator Hatfield as that most rare breed of politicians — one who worked across party lines for the common good and voted on principle rather than political expediency. Guided by thoughtful independence rather than the drumbeat of headlines and polls, the senator became known as the “conscience of the Senate.” His concern, first and foremost, was for the people he served. The balanced budget constitutional amendment failed by one vote — that of Senator Hatfield, who felt it put Social Security at risk.

The senator was a humanitarian, a passionate advocate of human rights around the world and civil rights at home. He urged improvements to health and education programs. He defended Native American treaties. He was an early conservationist, foreseeing the need to develop alternative energy, preserve air quality, and protect rivers and wilderness areas, long before those ideas had entered the mainstream consciousness. Senator Hatfield leaves a legacy that improves the quality of life for every American.

Willamette’s library was dedicated in Senator Hatfield’s honor in 1986. At the entrance stands a clock tower, its base engraved with words selected by the senator, “Knowledge is the preface of peace,” and “Education finds fulfillment in compassion.” The words are fitting for a man who treated senators across the aisle with the same courtesy as those from his own party, who greeted custodians and cafeteria workers with the same respect accorded the U.S. president, who befriended Willamette students as family. Perhaps more than any other individual associated with Willamette, the Honorable Mark O. Hatfield embodied our motto, “Not unto ourselves alone are we born.”

We will miss his presence and leadership.

We have been informed that a private memorial service for family and close friends is likely to occur in the near future; plans for a more public memorial have not yet been announced.

Sincerely,

Stephen E. Thorsett
President, Willamette University