Remembering Tom McCall

By JD Adams

In this era of partisan gridlock and political regression, we can look back to Oregon’s 2007 Legislative session with a sense of nostalgia. It was remarkable in the number and quality of environmental bills that were passed, recalling the era of the iconic Tom McCall. I need not remind you that it was Tom McCall who defined the Oregon mystique, the doctrine of the Oregon Story, a concept battered through the economic turmoil of the 80’s. Tom would approve of Oregon’s bold plans to restore salmon migration by the elimination of unnecessary dams.

McCall’s famous “visit but don’t stay” quip was enigmatic, inspirational and yet haunting. In 1982, McCall was 69 years old and racked with cancer, but still ready to fight for the Oregon he loved. He traveled to the Oregon-California border in July for a final media event that unfolded alongside the highway. McCall climbed from his car, strode past the onlookers and gazed at the sign that read “Welcome to Oregon. We Hope You Enjoy Your Visit.” The implication was subtle.

Atiyeh’s new sign simply said, “Welcome to Oregon.” McCall somberly addressed the crowd: “I want the terms of this understood,” McCall began, “I want the media especially to understand that in accepting this does not represent unconditional surrender.” McCall chided the crowd about the changes to the sign and grimly continued.

“There’s been a lot of bad mouthing about ‘visit, but don’t stay’. It served its purpose. We were saying ‘Visit, but don’t stay‘ because Oregon, queen bee though she is, is not yet ready for the swarm. “

“I am simply saying that Oregon is demure and lovely, and ought to play a little hard to get.” Looking toward Atiyeh, he boomed, “And I think you’ll all be just as sick as I am if you find it is nothing but a hungry hussy, throwing herself at every stinking smokestack that’s offered.”

McCall’s defiant words echoed through the media, reminding Oregonians of the singular courage that had shaped the state. As noted by Brent Walth in his 1994 book “Fire at Eden’s Gate”, “The Movers many generations ago had come to Oregon hoping for an Eden. Even in the darkest of times, Tom McCall, the sentry at the gate, had dared to rekindle that hope.”

And thank you Richard Chambers, the father of the original bottle bill. He was a man who hated politics, but who worked tirelessly toward the passage of the bill. Chambers received an environmental award from McCall in 1974. Senate Bill 707 expanded the bottle bill to include those ubiquitous water bottles. Faced with environmental compromise during the Great Recession, Governor Kitzhaber has wisely chosen to reinvent Oregon’s economy by investments in education and innovation. Once again the nation can look toward Oregon, a place “where the future works.”

The above article was written and submitted to us by J.D. Adams. You can send him a comment or read other stories by J.D. Adams

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