Monday, November 19, 2007

Tom McCall: The Natural Visionary

Last week Audrey McCall died in her Portland home at the age of 92.

Audrey McCall, the First Lady to the late Governor of Oregon, Tom McCall, was an active and powerful patron of environmental issues in Oregon.

While Mrs. McCall deserves admiration in her own right, one must know her husband to truly understand the impact of the McCalls on Cascadian history. Under Tom McCall's leadership in the 1960's and 70's, Oregon became one of the most progressive places in the world for environmental awareness.

"Surely, we all can subscribe to the uniting thought: That our actions here --- and always --- be guided by a reverence for life and respect for nature."

At first glance McCall doesn't seem to have the credentials of a typical eco-friend. He was a Republican and a vocal supporter of the Vietnam War, which raged during his Governorship. Nonetheless he understood the importance of the natural environment in the Oregonian psyche. "Health, economic strength, recreation --- in fact, the entire outlook and image of the state --- are tied inseparable to environment," he proclaimed in his first Inaugural speech.

McCall first ran for governor in 1966 under the banner of "livability". Although his own party opposed him, he won the election and quickly passed the "Beaches Bill" which granted the public ownership of much of Oregon's beautiful coast, saving it from development. This would be the first in a long line of pioneering environmental measures. His most famous was the "Bottle Bill" passed in 1971. This law, the first of its kind in the nation, required all soft-drink and beer containers to be returnable for a small refund. This bill dramatically cut down on litter and has since been copied by many other states in the country.

McCall also worked hard to clean up the Willamette River, which runs through the center of Portland and had virtually become an industrial wasteland by the end of the 1960's. The Harbor Drive Task Force which McCall organized in 1968 aimed to replace an old section of the Route 99 freeway, which spanned the Willamette River in downtown Portland, with some type of public space. In 1974 the highway was demolished and the area was developed into the Tom McCall Waterfront Park, a beautiful, historic park in the heart of downtown Portland. (Hmmmmm, maybe tearing down a decrepit viaduct on the water CAN have good results!)

But more than just environmental issues, McCall saw things from a greater perspective of sustainability and quality-of-life. He is well-known for his blunt message to non-Oregonians: "We want you to visit our State of Excitement often. Come again and again. But, for heaven’s sake, don’t move here to live." Even in a post-WWII environment, where growth of the West was seen as an integral goal of the United States, McCall understood the necessary balance needed between humans and other life. Under his leadership Oregon implemented the first statewide land planning system, which introduced an urban growth boundary to many of Oregon's metropolitan areas.

In 1983 Tom McCall mournfully succumbed to cancer. From that day forward, Audrey McCall carried on her husband's ambitions until her unfortunate death this year. The McCall legacy is one that all Cascadians should remember and commend. It is people like this that have made our small region of the world one of the best. In 2002 Oregon Governor Ted Kulungoski summed up McCall's character; it is one that has greatly influenced the Cascadian ethos:

Non-conformist. Fiercely independent. Plain spoken. Tolerant. And above all, in love with—and determined to protect—natural beauty.


Oregon Historical Society: [Governor Tom McCall]
Oregon Biographies: [Tom McCall (1913-1983)]
Oregon State Archives: [Tom McCall's Administration]
Wikipedia: [Tom McCall]
Wikipedia: [Oregon Bottle Bill]

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