Between the 1980s and early 2000s, the Oregon Historical Society interviewed Oregon state officials, including senators, representatives, secretaries of state, and governors as part of a decades-long oral history initiative. Amid that work, Senator Mark O. Hatfield’s longtime legislative aide, Gary Barbour, contacted then-OHS Executive Director Tom Vaughan with an idea: conducting a series of oral history interviews with Hatfield’s aides, staff, and confidantes as well as an extensive interview with the senator himself. Willamette University, Hatfield’s alma mater and where his papers are housed, helped to coordinate the initial funding of the Senator Mark O. Hatfield Oral History Project.
By the end of 1988, OHS’s oral historian Jim Strassmaier and two others, Clark Hansen and Michael O’Rourke, had interviewed twenty-five of Hatfield’s closest associates, including congressional aides, staff, and advisors. The interviews comprise approximately 158 hours on 162 audiocassettes, several of which were conducted in Washington, D.C. The senator’s own interview (which was restricted from public access until his 100th birthday on July 12, 2022) was conducted by Clark Hansen and is an additional 37 and a half hours on 42 audiocassettes.
Hatfield had a long and distinguished career in public service, which began as an Oregon State legislator in 1951. He was both Oregon’s youngest secretary of state and governor. Later, he served for thirty years as a U.S. senator, the longest term of any senator from Oregon. He is perhaps best known for his early and consistent opposition to the Vietnam War, a subject that is extensively examined in these interviews.
Hidden amongst the conversations of legislative agendas and political issues are many stories that highlight the senator’s personality and the kind of relationship he had with his senate staff. The following are a few excerpts from this series (that we lightly edited for clarity) of just that.
Jenna L. Dorn
Jenna L. Dorn was legislative assistant to U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield from 1977 to 1981. In Dorn’s interview (SR 1322, tape 2, side 1), she shares an example of the support Hatfield provided to her and other staff members.
Dorn: When I came to work for Senator Hatfield, I became involved in something called the Capitol Hill Women’s Political Caucus. That was a bipartisan group of women staff members and some men who worked on [Capitol] Hill. I eventually was chair of [the caucus], for about three years, so I was very active in it. It became clear very early on that there was a problem in terms of equal pay for women staff members in some offices.… There were horror stories that one couldn’t believe about how women, in the same type of job, were paid drastically different salaries, some as much as 50 or 60 percent less than the men. Plus, there were just unwritten rules that if you were a female intern and you sought advancement that your career path would include, first of all, a stop at the reception desk.… If you were a male intern, you went from intern to legislative correspondent, or to case worker, you didn’t have to do the receptionist job. [This was in] 1977.
I went to Senator Hatfield, and I said I believe that we have done a very professional, very objective study. And I feel strongly that it’s an issue we need to get out before the public, and we need to pass a law that [will] bring Congress under the same kinds of stipulations as other members of society. [I explained that] if a woman ever had a problem, [where] she felt her rights had been violated, she would have no recourse to go through any administrative procedure. She’d have to go directly to the Supreme Court. [That was] your only option, if you had been discriminated against, because there was no statute.
I told Senator Hatfield that we were doing this study, and that I wanted to call a press conference, that I would be responsible for briefing the press. Of course, the press loved this issue because any time they [could] blast Congress, they [loved] it. I went to Senator Hatfield a few weeks before and said, “This is what I’m contemplating. I want to know if you feel comfortable with this. Some of your colleagues are not going to like what we say. We’re not referring to them by name, but the information will be public about what they paid their staff members, et cetera.” And we had a talk about it, about maybe twenty minutes or so, [and] I showed him some of the results. I wanted to check with him to see whether I’d be fired or what he’d think, but it never occurred to me that it was as significant a risk for him. I don’t think I fully appreciated it.
And I will never forget that Senator Hatfield looked at me with tears in his eyes and said, “Jenna, I want you to know that I am very proud of you.” This just chokes me up just thinking about it. “That for standing up for what you believe in, I think it’s something that is very admirable, and I hope that you go forward with it with the integrity that I know you have.” We both got teary. I left the room and did the press conference. In the scope of world events, this press conference [was not a] big deal, but in the scope of a lesson that I learned from him about standing up for your principles, it was incredible. And we ended up making a difference.
Tom J. Imeson
Tom J. Imeson began working as a legislative aide for U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield in 1969, and he spent sixteen years on the senator’s staff. In Imeson’s interview (SR 1328, tape 1, side 1), he talks about his early years on Hatfield’s staff.
Imeson: Yes, [I had opportunities to get to know the senator better after joining his staff]. He was around some when I was there in those evenings — it was a gradual thing. When I was there in 1970 and 1971, I didn’t have a car, [and] he would loan me his car. I got to know him and his family better. And he was always interested in what we were doing.
During the anti-war activity, for example, Vietnam Veterans Against the War were going to all camp out on the Mall [in Washington, D.C.,] and the word was that everybody was going to be arrested. Another student who was involved in the office and I decided we were going to go and camp out with them and told the senator that. He said if we had a problem to give him a call, he’d come and take care of us.
At that time, the Hatfield group was thought of as kind of a family operation — with me, and with some of the people who were my age there — it was almost a fatherly relationship that developed to the point where you would talk to him about [personal matters]. He’s very friendly in that way to people, like me, who were on the staff.
Because the office wasn’t really structured in a rigid way, there was a lot of potential for upward mobility, and I benefitted from that. The idea was that if you were willing to stick around and do whatever kind of work you were handed (and I was handed really basic clerical work), and you worked well at it, [then] you’d get to do something else, and that’s what happened to me. I gradually shifted from part-time evening [shifts working on] whatever needed to be done, to full-time legislative work, which I began doing by the end of 1970 or the beginning of 1971.
Frank: [Senator Hatfield is] always interested and always there to help when people are sick, he’s always the first one to call, and he does have an interest in all this. He’s a compassionate person and he is very thoughtful and, when people are suffering around him, he’s very sensitive. Mark Hatfield can read people very well. He knows when they’re hurting, he’s been hurt himself in various ways, and he knows what goes into that and he feels that and he responds to it. I think this is something that people appreciate in him. They see this in him, and they understand that it’s a sincere interest. Many times he’ll pick up the phone to call somebody who’s not feeling well or somebody who’s lost a parent or a child or somebody in the hospital.
We often laughed [about how] we made a practice for many years of going around seeing some of the elder statesmen of the state and some of the folks who had been prominent in Oregon life that we’d heard who were getting along in years; so many times after we’d visit them, they would pass away. He often said, “Well, maybe, Gerry, we ought not to go see them because that’s sort of the kiss of death. They seem to expire after we’ve had a chance to visit with them.” The motivation [for] going to see them was always that he was really interested in talking with them. He was interested in people and their problems, and to this day, he maintains a very close personal tie with hundreds of people around the state.
[I think this is because of] a combination of [his] childhood and [his] upbringing; little things counted. He and his family had to struggle to make ends meet financially, but he was [still] brought up in a disciplined environment and with strong maternal and paternal interest. Being an only child, I think was a part of it. A very keen mind was [also] a part of it. The tragic automobile accident, I think, was a contributing factor. I think that his [interest in] church and [being] Christian was a part of it…On [a] practical side, I think he well knew that being interested in people and in their needs and in their problems was good politics, and [while] I don’t think that was the motivating factor, it certainly was a part of the whole mix. I don’t think any of us are a product of just one incident or one activity or one part of our lives. It’s a compendium of all of the things that affect us, and I think Mark Hatfield’s concern in this area is just that.
S. Richard (Rick) Rolf
S. Richard (Rick) Rolf worked as an intern for U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield and later served as the senator’s senior foreign policy advisor, chief campaign strategist, and spokesperson. In Rolf’s interview (SR 1334, tape 1, side 2) he shares some instances of Hatfield’s sense of humor.
Rolf: He was not much of a joke teller, [but sometimes] he’d leave the office, slip past me. At the same time, he would know that I needed to talk to him about something that I perceived to be urgent, and he knew that I would panic over having thought that he had slipped by me. He’d wait outside behind one of the posts there and watch me run out like a mad man to try to catch him. He’d do things like that.
One time Senator [Hatfield] was out here by the elevators, you know where the Calder [mobile] is in the middle of the Hart building. And you can look across beyond the Calder to the other set of elevators on the other side of the building. And [typically, the] Calder slowly moves around. On that day…for some reason, it was moving more than usual. They must have just done something with it. There was some senator, I can’t remember who it was now, standing over by the elevator just minding his own business and Senator [Hatfield] reached out and put his hands out and began motioning his hands around as though he were, through his cosmic vibrations, causing this giant thing to be moving. This other senator, who usually was a very serious guy, [looked] over at Hatfield thinking that he’s moving this Calder statue around.
I [also] remember during a big vote on the nuclear freeze [a joint resolution in 1982 calling for a American-Soviet nuclear weapons freeze] the senator disappearing. I was on the Senate floor; the senator disappeared; I couldn’t find him. We were coming up to a vote on the nuclear freeze resolution, which Senator Hatfield and Senator [Edward] Kennedy had sponsored, and the senator had disappeared. And, of course, I had a list of senators that I wanted him to talk to who would be coming into the well of the Senate to cast their votes. I wanted him to catch these people. The senator always underestimated or questioned [the] notion that if he would talk to somebody, he might conceivably influence their vote. [He] always played down his ability to do that. I was frustrated; I had this list of senators I wanted him to talk to, and finally he came back out of the cloakroom.
Something had motivated him to go into the cloakroom, go into the little phone booth in there, [and to] call Orin Hatch, the conservative, Mormon, Republican senator from Utah, on the telephone. [He had someone get] Hatch, who went into a phone booth directly across from the senator. [Hatfield] got on the phone with [Hatch] telling him that he was the bishop of the Mormon Church, and that he wanted him to support Hatfield’s resolution on the nuclear freeze.
Well, I guess Hatch became very flustered and said, “Well, you know, I like Mark and I respect him, but I just don’t see how I can vote for this.” And Senator [Hatfield] [said], “Well, why not?” He had [Hatch] completely concerned about this, and finally Hatch looked across the phone booths and saw Hatfield sitting in there on the phone. It was just an example of the senator’s bizarre and spontaneous sense of humor.
Marty B. Gold
Marty B. Gold worked as a legal assistant for U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield beginning in 1972. In Gold’s interview (SR 1325, tape 2, side 2), he talks about his relationship with the senator.
Gold: Now I’ll tell you something else about being in law school and working for Hatfield, which tells you a lot about Hatfield. For the first year, I was a nervous wreck. Oh, I was just certain I was going to miss a meeting, I was going to miss a memo, some constituent was going to come in, [and] — I wouldn’t have prepared him, and all the rest of it. I was sure of it. Had to happen.
Never happened. If it happened, I never knew about it. He was never demanding, he never called me on the carpet, he never complained. He knew what kind of schedule I was keeping — he allowed me to work around it.
Hansen: That also says a lot about his feelings about you.
Gold: Well, I guess. But it was a very — in the best sense of the term — paternal relationship. He once wrote an autograph to me in one of his books, Not Quite So Simple, and he autographed it “to a trusted friend and surrogate son.” And I understood that, I felt that myself.
When I was married in 1974, Hatfield had the wedding at his home. I had asked him for a simple favor. He was a member of the Capitol Hill Club; I needed a place to put the wedding. [I asked if I] could use one of the banquet rooms there; could he ask [the club if I could use it for my] wedding? And he volunteered to have the wedding at his home. I was touched, I was honored.
Fredrica (Riki) P. Sheehan
Fredrica (Riki) P. Sheehan began working on U.S. Senator Mark Hatfield’s staff as a caseworker in 1974. In 1977, she became one of Hatfield’s legislative assistants. In 1980, when Hatfield became chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, she was appointed to its staff. In Sheehan’s interview (SR 1343, tape 1, side 1), she talks about policy discussions between Hatfield and members of his staff.
Sheehan: That’s not to say that Senator Hatfield only hires people who agree with him on every subject, that’s quite the opposite, as a matter of fact. He’s probably one of the few senators or members of Congress who enjoys having discussions with staff; who enjoys having a difference of opinion on issues. And it helps him to understand the other side of an issue when he goes home to Oregon. Someone will raise an issue and be on the other side of it — whether it’s abortion, or the war in Vietnam, or whether it’s some kind of a military weapon system [or] Panama Canal treaties. Whatever the issue was, he always appreciated discussing the other side of an issue and engage in a good debate.
O’Rourke: So, in what ways were you able to be a foil for him?
Sheehan: He would often walk around the office and chat with everyone. “What are you doing? What are you up to? What kind of mail are you getting? What are the people in Oregon saying? What problems have you been encountering, or they have been encountering?” That curtailed somewhat when he became chairman of the Appropriations Committee because his time was much more limited. Prior to 1981, however, I would say that we had incredible access to him and a very fruitful exchange of ideas on a variety of issues. Now, he certainly wouldn’t assign somebody many issues in which, with which they disagreed with him, but he did appreciate a difference of opinion, and asked for free expressions of such differences.…
A good example [of this would be]…relating to the Middle East. Although I was never in a position of handling the senator’s foreign policy matters, it wasn’t my background, I come from a Jewish family, and with fairly strong feelings towards Israel’s survival. Senator Hatfield has been labeled as someone who has been, through the years, perhaps less supportive of Israel than some other members of Congress. I think that’s misunderstood, frankly, but he has taken some heat from the Oregon Jewish community and perhaps in some press accounts because he doesn’t believe that we should be selling arms in such large measure around the world, whether it’s to the Israelis, the Arabs, or anybody to heighten the conflicts in the Middle East. And that has been interpreted by some as being anti-Israel.
O’Rourke: But not by you?
Sheehan: No, certainly not. But be that as it may, we had very fruitful discussions about Israel, about Jewish communities’ perceptions of Israel, but he also supported other issues relating to Israel that might change people’s perceptions.… He would sit down and say, “Let’s talk about this issue.” You know, “How is this perceived? How do you think this is perceived? And let’s discuss this, and maybe come up with some thoughts of how I can clarify my position.”
O’Rourke: Would he do this in sort of a round table with all the staff, or one on one?
Sheehan: Either. He might just come over to my desk and sit down and tell me that he was troubled by something that he had read in the paper or heard about his position, and we’d just chat for a bit.
The Senator Mark O. Hatfield Oral History Project series of interviews can be accessed online on OHS Digital Collections.
Joint copyright for these interviews is held by the Oregon Historical Society and Willamette University. Use is allowed according to the following license: Creative Commons — BY-NC-SA.
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