CHALKBOARD NOTE: Our President, Sue Hildick, worked closely with Senator Hatfield in the early years of her career. A version of this tribute first appeared on PSU’s Center for Woman, Politics and Policy’s website soon after his death last month. There will be a public tribute to Sen. Hatfield’s life and work later this month at the State Capitol in Salem. Find out more details and read more remembrances on the PSU Center for Public Service memorial site.
Although we lost one of Oregon’s greatest statesmen on August 7, I have been missing Senator Mark O. Hatfield for a number of years. He was my first employer and greatest teacher of my professional career.
For those of us who had a calling to work in Washington, D.C., Oregonians could find an oasis on the seventh floor of the Hart Building. It was a classroom. A museum. A place of hard work and difficult decisions. Most importantly, it was a home for Oregonians who wanted to do good things for their beloved state.
At the age of 26, I was asked to serve as his legislative director; at the time, he was the second most senior Republican on the Hill. I told the Senator that I wasn’t sure I could handle the responsibility and he said, “Don’t worry. We’ll do it together.” He had so much confidence in the people who worked for him and always brought out the best in all of us—an important quality of a great leader.
Pictured: Sue Hildick (upper left) and Senator Hatfield (lower right) and staff in his Hart building office on Capitol Hill in 1995.
As chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Senator Hatfield wielded significant power and influence. But through his grace, welcoming demeanor and eloquence, he was always both approachable and inspirational.
The Senator had a wonderful leadership style. He often asked his staff what we cared about and encouraged us to leverage his unique position to transform those aspirations into tangible results for Oregon. He told us to “invest in our vision,” and there are countless examples of ideas that were conceptually ahead of their time that are now a part of who we are and what we represent as a state. He made sure Oregon was a part of key national investment strategies, such as light rail and biomedical research infrastructure.
Through his role in the Senate, we had countless leaders and heads of agencies come through our doors. He had great respect for the women and men who held those positions and they often remarked on his professionalism and leadership. He particularly enjoyed watching young people, women and the unexpected leaders among us reach their potential and achieve success.
Both the Senator and his Chief of Staff Gerry Frank instilled in all of us the importance of treating everyone with respect. They insisted we respond to inquiries from Oregonians in a swift and thorough manner. Anyone who walked into the office or took the time to call or write received the same level of service. Everyone mattered.
That was his philosophy for constituent service and his legislative career. He believed in voting for and investing in “life-preserving, not life-destroying options.” The continuity in his voting record and his stance on issues are now a part of our nation’s history for future generations to reflect upon and study.
Once he announced his retirement, I knew my time serving Oregon from Washington, D.C. was drawing to a close. But his work paved a way for me to continue to work hard for Oregon in Oregon.
–Sue Hildick, President of Foundations for a Better Oregon/The Chalkboard Project and formerly Legislative Director (1990-1996) to the late U.S. Senator Mark O. Hatfield