|The Oregon Historical Society last Thursday night celebrated what would have been the 100th birthday of Gov. Tom McCall, hosted by OHS Executive Director Kerry Tymchuk. Find more historical tidbits about McCall on their website, www.ohs.org.|
Photo courtesy Oregon Historical Society
I first met Former Governor Tom McCall as the butt of a joke; I, of course, was the butt.
In 1974, I interned with The Oregonian as a general assignment reporter/photographer. I made a good impression; my articles appeared on the front page a few times. I once had the lead story in the old "Metro Northwest" Section after witnessing a lunchtime performance by a Charlie Chaplin impersonator at Forecourt (now Keller) Fountain, and I was sent on assignment with high-ranking federal officials visiting Portland.
The managing editor even sent me a complimentary note based on a number of positive responses to an article I wrote on Multiple Sclerosis. Not bad for a "rook."
On weekends, I was periodically assigned to the obituary page. Back then, if you worked that particular office-bound beat, casual dress was accepted attire.
One Saturday while doing obits, the assignment editor, whose name I don't recall (Judd Randall was the City Editor at the time), came up to me. "Hey, Gudger, I've got a story I want you to cover."
"But I'm not dressed appropriately for that," I responded; I didn't think my jeans and tennis shoes were respectful to either the profession or the subject.
"Aww...don't worry about it," he said. "You're fine. Somebody is having some sort of party in the basement of that building across the street. Not much going on, but we just need to check on who's there. Jeans and tennis shoes should be fine."
Since I had never lived in Portland at this time, I relied on my journalistic peers to show me the "lay of the land," so to speak: locations, personalities and general decorum attendant to the venues I would be reporting from.
"There's a side door across from our building that takes you to the basement...just use that one."
OK. No sweat.
So I picked up pencil and pad (reporters and pencils: lead doesn't smear in the rain) and headed across the street to the dark brick building to the side door, descended a few steps, and opened the door to the room from which the party sounds emanated.
I froze immediately on entry.
There, at the end of the cloth-napkined table was Governor McCall. Seated next to him was the Ambassador to the United States from Sierra Leone. At the other end of the long table were two retirees: the longest tenured state employees in Oregon History (or something like that) being honored for their historic tenure.
All in tuxedos. Added chill factor.
As a dark-skinned black man, I don't blush very well, but I imagined a glowing red aura visible to all.
Governor McCall looked directly at me, held that pose for a moment, then continued with his presentation. After the speeches were done, I rubbed the tips of my tennies on the backs of my pant legs, and went around the table interviewing the principals, working my way through the embarrassment, like a true (albeit underdressed) professional.
I didn't see Tom McCall again until 1979 at the NAACP National Convention held for the first time here in Portland.
As chair of the local branch press and publicity committee, I published the branch's newsletter, "Go Tell It..." and publicized events to local media.
Again, The Oregonian connection: I ran into the afore-mentioned editor Judd Randall, who told me The Oregonian did not bring its own photographer to the convention (What! With Denise "Room 222" Nicholas, actresses Judy Pace and Sheila ("Superfly's girlfriend) Frazier in the house? Shame!). He asked if I would take shots for the paper. I agreed and proceeded to position myself during the pre-conference cacophony.
As I was moving through an "expediency tunnel" to change locations, I ran into the Governor. I had on a suit this time.
I spoke, and mentioned that I had met him once before.
"Oh yeah ...I remember," he said.
Revisit the freeze and glow.
"They got you good, didn't they?" he asked with a chuckle.
An old newsman himself, McCall was all too familiar with newsroom hi-jinks and a game I'll simply call, "Punk the Rook."
"I remember when we used to do things like that to the rookie reporters."
We laughed, briefly shook hands, and went our respective ways through the convention.
I have always been amazed that he remembered me after all that time. All the more, I appreciated not only his memory, but his ability to relate and connect, his grace, his humor and his service to this state. Happy 100th Birthday, Governor Tom McCall.
Attorney at Law, Gregory has been practicing family law in Oregon since 1989. He is both a Duck (University of Oregon, Journalism '75) and Bearcat (Willamette University College of Law '86). He can be contacted at 503-228-1170 or www.GregoryLGudgerlaw.com.