Today, July 12, 2022, would have been Senator Mark O. Hatfield’s 100th birthday. In a remarkable forty-six-year career in elected office, Hatfield earned a reputation as the most respected and influential politician in Oregon’s history. First elected as an Oregon state representative in 1950 at age twenty-eight, Hatfield never lost an election and would go on to serve Oregon as a state senator, secretary of state, governor, and a U.S. senator.
As we commemorate what we at the Oregon Historical Society (OHS) are calling the “Hatfield Centennial” this year, we are excited to highlight the senator’s legacy both through a popular traveling exhibit as well as twenty-five oral history interviews with Hatfield’s congressional aides, staff, and advisors that are currently available on OHS Digital Collections. The senator’s own interviews, which were restricted from public release until his 100th birthday, are now also available online.
These oral histories provide an important window into Oregon’s political history and the career of one of Oregon’s most distinguished public servants. The Hatfield interviews are part of a decades-long OHS initiative conducted between the late 1980s and early 2000s that documents the stories of state officials who served between about 1960 and 1998.
One thing that makes the senator’s oral histories so compelling is that they provide a glimpse at Hatfield’s personality through candid interviews. Like many other Oregonians, I was privileged to serve as an intern in Senator Hatfield’s Salem office while attending Willamette University. I would later work closely with him during my years on Capitol Hill, where I served as an aide to Senator Bob Dole. My wife and I were honored beyond words when Senator Hatfield agreed to give the homily at our wedding, and we were blessed to have his friendship as part of our life until his passing in 2011.
I will always remember attending a tribute dinner to Senator Hatfield in Washington, D.C., in 1996. The special guest for the evening was then-President Bill Clinton. In his remarks, President Clinton said that “because he loves his enemies, Senator Hatfield has no enemies.” In this era, when bitter partisanship has become the rule and not the exception, let us remember these words of Senator Hatfield: “All of us need each other; all of us must lift and pull others as we rise; all of us must rise together — powerful, free, one self-determined people.”
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