04-23-2019  5:15 pm      •     
Ronault Ls Catalani Special to The Skanner News
Published: 12 August 2011

Attorney Mayfield K. Webb and his wife, Juretta Webb, present former Gov. Mark Hatfield with two tickets to the NAACP Freedom Spectacular, circa the late 1950s (from History of Portland's African American Community: 1805-to the Present, by the City Bureau of Planning, 1995)


Our family is from another place.  Our ethos and aesthetic are of another time.

Inside our vigorous family some of us say our traditional values are no longer relevant. No longer adequate on this complex continent, in these tectonic times. But just as many of us insist that holding firm beats renegotiating the terms of our promises to our tough and tender ancestors and elders. They are people of principle.

The passing of the Honorable Mark Odom Hatfield has brought these values to mind. That the number of our neighbors at Monday morning Starbucks, the number of print and broadcast commentators, are humbled by Senator Hatfield's moral authority leaving us -- is reassuring to those of us in that latter camp. Those stuck on old school principles.

Over four decades ago, our elders spoke softly when we passed Governor Hatfield's green 2-story house on the western edge of Salem's expansive Bush's Pasture Park. Our family had just shipped from Djakarta to Rotterdam to Hoboken; we'd just railroaded from smoldering Chicago through the heavenly Rockies and into the verdant Willamette Valley. Cherry, plum, and pear blossoms were in outrageous bloom.

Blinking and believing.

"He's one importland man," Momma whispered, pointing chu-chu lips at Mr. and Mrs. Hatfield's tidy little home, so different from Javan sultan's mansions. Auntie blinked in three times in accord.  Grand people, Salem's big white marble state buildings, that tall-tall city an hour north on I-5 -- were importland.

"It is importland you say 'good morning Teacher'," Momma said stern that first September in Salem.

One day after church, our families' sponsor Mr. Bob Hawkins, with his robin's egg blue eyes and his patient grandpa's voice taught us all about Mark O. Hatfield.  He said when young Mark studied at Willamette University, school officials asked him to drive all-star athlete, Shakespearean actor, labor activist, and internationally acclaimed baritone Paul Robeson up that cold freeway to Portland right after his Salem performance. To get a bed for the night.

About Maestro Robeson, our precious planet's handsomest man, we knew everything. About this face of America, we were entirely new. At the end of Mr. Hawkins' tale, our Poppa blinked twice. Twice to rid himself of doubt. Doubt about his moving us here.

That dark story of course ended well, driven by Portland's NAACP and Salem's new State Legislative Assemblyman, Mark Hatfield. After 18 tried and failed legislative attempts to dump Oregon's racialized local public accommodation ordinances, the State of Oregon finally ended that strain of official bigotry. Whether State Rep Mark Hatfield ever blinked or not, we cannot say. But he never eased up on principle. On justice.

Believing and believing.

Some years after our family settled into Salem, my number was drawn in the draft lottery. That's how kids were selected for American warring back in those bad old days. And that's what got our Pop into U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield's office.

It was the third time I'd read serious doubt in our father's ferociously determined eyes, the second was when a gunman shot dead Bobby Kennedy. That's what happened to American believers, back then.

Everybody between Salem and Washington DC already knew Sen. Hatfield's principled public position on sending our sons into Vietnam's ugly situation. Our Senator's personal advice in his quiet local office was just as certain. Do nothing, he said in substance. Richard Nixon was campaigning on a promise to rid the middle class of that dreaded draft; when he takes office in January, the Selective Service bureaucracy's funding will dry up. Don't break the law -- that grand American explained without a blink -- but don't sweat an unenforceable one.

Turning to me, he said, "Tell your mom not to worry."

Know your country; respect the law; care for each other -- that's what he said.

Two decades later, we went to him again, our Senior US Senator, at a new library named for him, next to lively Mill Creek on Willamette U's cozy campus. We went to thank him for helping our father, our anguished mother, and their unruly second son (me) through another bad episode about a decade earlier. The time I got a bit lost in revolutionary Iran.

In 1978 I disappeared from sight for 10 days. Ten days since I slipped out of angry Teheran on an early morning train, 1 day ahead of a nationwide transportation and communication workers strike. Anticipating my backdoor exit, along the Zagros Desert truck route into Pakistan's wild-west frontier, the Senator asked State Department field officers to leave his direct DC number at all American Express offices, at every big intersection, I was likely to pass.

I got that note. I called him quick. His staff told my mom not to worry.

Our turn to believe

Senator Hatfield stayed in office for another decade after that Willamette chat, though this was the last time we were near him. Our ancestors and elders have always said that with a great teacher you don't need to study years. One lesson is plenty.

Our family got three -- same as our father's grave doubts about leaving our homeland. Same as our Aunties' affirming blinks in front of Senator Hatfield's humble house that first year in Salem. Just enough blessings for old school believers to balance the delicate calculus of our precious lives on this chaotic new continent. To tip us away from cynicism, back to the Senator's simply sincere marriage to principle.

Salamat djalan, we wish God's peace on your journey, Mark Odom Hatfield -- Willamette University politics professor; Oregon legislative assemblyman, secretary of state, and governor; our United States senator; and honorable elder of us all.

Ronault LS (Polo) Catalani

Office of Human Relations

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