Mark O. Hatfield: Remembering the Statesman
By Gerry Frank
Gerry Frank spent more than 50 years with Mark O. Hatfield. As a friend and former chief of staff, he has a unique view into the mind and the work of Oregon’s greatest political figure. We asked him to share his thoughts as an anchor for our commemoration of Hatfield’s remarkable tenure. —Ed.
Oregon owes much of its political character to Mark O. Hatfield ‘43, a man who began his career across the street from the Capitol building on the Willamette University campus.
After earning his undergraduate degree from Willamette, Mark went to Stanford, where he earned his master’s degree in political science — and found his true calling. He returned to Willamette to share his knowledge as a political science instructor and later took on a complementary role, for which he was loved, as dean of students.
But, as much as Mark enjoyed teaching, it became more and more apparent that he was drawn to hands-on involvement with the political machinations in the Capitol building. Even as he continued duties at Willamette, he began a climb from state representative to state senator and then made a successful run for secretary of state. While he always remained a teacher at heart and in practice, with the victory of the election he decided to devote his full career to Oregon’s political process.
I, on the other hand, moved to Salem in 1955 to open and operate the first satellite Meier & Frank department store. As far as I was concerned, my life’s path was set without question; I would follow in my father’s footsteps as a “rag” merchant. But life usually doesn’t follow a straight line and, like my father, who thought he was destined to be a lawyer but was conscripted into the retail world, my road found a sharp corner when the family store was contentiously sold in 1965.
This is the background out of which the Hatfield-Frank alliance was forged. As we were both involved with Willamette (I, on the Board of Trustees and he, teaching) we had many occasions to work together. Knowing Mark as intimately as I did was a privilege that grew from a 50-plus year friendship and professional relationship. The old saying that “when a door closes, a window opens” was never proven more prophetic than through the partnership I was privileged to form with “MOH.”
Business as Usual
In 1958, I had agreed to be a part of Mark’s successful gubernatorial bid; again, in 1962, we teamed up to put him in office for a second term. Since I found myself a young man without a job following the sale of Meier & Frank — and Mark was a two-term governor looking toward Washington, D.C. — he asked if I would help with his effort for the 1966 U.S. Senate race. I said yes, never knowing, of course, what lay ahead. We worked together for over a quarter of a century for four more senate races. Because of his keen political sense, integrity and intelligence, Mark never lost a race, and he knew when it was the right time to bid adieu to the institution he loved so much.
For our first six years in Washington, I was a “dollar-a-year” man; over the following two decades, I served the senator as his chief of staff. One of the primary high points of this position was interviewing thousands of young men and women who were hopeful to obtain internships. Mark, the teacher, was superb in the role of mentoring and developing the 600-plus eager men and women who were hired (many of whom later became full-time staffers).
Several years ago, a group of former interns and staff came together for a MOH birthday party. It was one of the most fun and meaningful celebrations I’ve ever been a part of. Walt Evans JD’67 had the bright idea to gather “Lessons from MOH,” with the caveat that they had to be boiled down to one sentence (not always adhered to). By sharing a few of these — some light-hearted, others serious, and all good lessons — I hope readers will gain a clearer vision of this extraordinary man:
Lessons from MOH
- Never forget where you’re from, where you’ve been, and the lessons you’ve received from people along the way.
- Your family comes first.
- Just do the right thing without regard to the politics.
- Most tough political issues can be put into perspective over a dish of butter pecan ice cream with coffee splashed over it.
- Clear political values that guide your positions make the job much easier than stewing over the politics of every vote.
- Always carry an emergency bag of peanut M&Ms.
- Develop your position thoughtfully and stick with it. Show your backbone.
- On politics/life: It’s all about the fine art of compromise.
- Friendship transcends political parties.
- Take time to understand history — both of people and institutions.
- And finally … don’t pass up any restroom.
Hatfield took great pleasure in spending as much individual time with his interns as he could to show everyone the ropes of the senate and federal government — it might have been a stroll down the corridor on the way to the senate floor, a few coveted minutes, or a lunch in the senate dining room. And he never failed to greet people, many by name, along the way; whether it was a fellow senator or a “worker bee” made no difference to him.
I am sure that all of these young men and women, especially after completing their education and entering careers, would confirm that their positions in the senate office were priceless experiences that helped shape the rest of their lives. There were so many uncommon benefits of such an educational practicum: crossing paths with influential people, gaining insight into our government’s inner workings and inner circle, honing perspective on actual law-making, making trips to the White House, even driving the senator to the airport. Mark was a terrific role model whom many aspired to emulate in their thoughts and actions.
Both Mark and I followed many of our staff from the senate office into their personal and professional lives, thus completing the extremely satisfying process of hiring quality people and watching them become today’s leaders in government, corporate, nonprofit and private positions. The core of the staff has remained a loosely cohesive group, coming together from time to time to reminisce and review the impact of those heady D.C. days.
Mark Hatfield never forgot his roots. Oregon was always “home” and he was proud that he could help and support our state and its citizens. He took many unpopular stands, with both his constituents and his colleagues, but no one ever questioned Mark’s integrity. For instance, there was tremendous pressure that he fall into line with party politics and vote for the 1995 balanced budget amendment; Mark stuck to his firm belief that it was the wrong thing for our nation and went on to cast the deciding “nay” vote, even offering to resign for his steadfast action. His resignation was declined.
One thing few people remember is that, but for a twist of fate, Mark could have been president of the United States. The year was 1968 and Richard Nixon needed a vice presidential running mate. During the Republican convention in Miami, we received word that the senator was under serious consideration. All night we received calls by intermediary Rev. Billy Graham and others: “MOH is in,” “MOH is out.” Given Mark’s anti-Vietnam-War stance, Nixon could not bring himself to select him. Instead, Nixon named Governor Spiro Agnew of Maryland, who proved an unfortunate choice; Agnew went on to be the only vice president in United States history to resign from office under criminal charges. If Mark had been the VP choice, when Nixon, too, was forced to resign, just imagine another path for this nation — it would have been incredible. He was that kind of a leader.
When it was time to retire from his beloved senate, there was no question of Mark’s desire to return to Oregon rather than be a “former senator” roaming around Washington, D.C. He was anxious to resume teaching and was able to do so at several institutions, including Willamette. Over those last years he was remembered as one of the lingering few true statesmen that we yearn for today; he was not into the current “sound-bite politics;” he considered his votes deeply and always had good reasons that he could articulate well. We would do well to review his thoughtful analysis over thousands of decisions and votes cast, as well as his political courage. He fulfilled the American vision of an ideal politician; contrasting with many who attain elected office, he walked the walk. He was no “empty suit.”
A teacher always, the professor-cum-statesman’s name will proudly ring in the halls of Willamette forever. He loved the institution that helped give him wings and propel him toward great achievement.
Mark Hatfield was a student at Willamette when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941. He enlisted immediately. His service with the Navy, albeit much briefer than his political career, was a formative experience and a demonstration of fierce commitment to his country and countrymen.
After the atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, Hatfield was one of the first to walk the moonscape that remained. That walk changed the course of his life. Bodies and utter destruction lay in everydirection, he said, and silence was overlaid with the stench of death. That day, 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 that commitment.