Mark O. Hatfield, the former governor and senator who transformed Oregon’s economy and landscape while becoming one of the nation’s most prominent skeptics of military might, died about 6 p.m. in Portland at the age of 89.
Hatfield, who had been in ill health for several years, died at a care home in Portland. His family did not have an immediate cause of death. He had lived in Oregon since his retirement from the Senate at the end of 1996 but had recently spent several months in a hospital at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.
Through nearly five decades in public office, Hatfield was both Oregon’s most durable politician and — after his rise to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee in 1981 — its most important.
Mark O. Hatfield Biography
Hatfield was born in Dallas, Ore., on July 12, 1922, the only child of Charles D. and Dovie Odom Hatfield. He grew up in the state capital of Salem and was introduced to Christianity by his devoutly Baptist father and to politics by his staunchly Republican mother. By high school, he was participating in local Republican political campaigns. A freshman at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, Hatfield immediately joined the Naval Reserve and accelerated his study of political science in order to begin combat training by late 1943.
He participated in the invasions of Iwo Jima and Okinawa as an ensign assigned to amphibious landing craft duty, was part of the fleet that accompanied General MacArthur for Japanese occupation, and visited Hiroshima no more than a month after the bomb had been dropped. He was later shipped to Haiphong, Vietnam, to aid French troops. These wartime experiences shaped Hatfield’s political philosophy throughout the course of a half-century of public service, giving him a profound reverence for life and a passion for human rights.
After receiving his master’s degree from Stanford University in 1948, Hatfield became an associate professor of political science at his undergraduate alma mater (1949-56), concurrently serving as dean of students at Willamette (1950-56) and as member of the Oregon House of Representatives (1951-55). An adept campaigner with a quick smile, Hatfield quickly vaulted to the pinnacle of Oregon politics. He joined the Senate in 1955, became the youngest secretary of state in Oregon history in 1957, and two years later was elected Oregon’s youngest governor. In that office, where he later became the state’s first two-term governor of the 20th century, Hatfield presided over construction of the Oregon interstate highway system, expanded the state park system, and spearheaded a range of environmental policies, including fish conservation and pollution control. He created the statewide community college system and raised teacher salaries as part of his “payrolls and playgrounds” campaign, promoted civil rights by creating a public defender system, and increased workers compensation benefits.
In 1966, Hatfield was elected to the United States Senate and served five terms spanning 30 years – Oregon’s longest-serving senator. He fought for a range of positions that make him difficult to classify politically. Although serving on the Republican ticket, the senator was an early and outspoken critic of the Vietnam and Gulf wars, consistently opposing increases in defense spending, the U.S. nuclear program and U.S. military involvement abroad. His anti-war stance was so unwavering that he was called “the conscience of the senate.” Hatfield is pro-life in every possible way, advocating against both abortion and the death penalty. He has been a leading advocate of international human rights, speaking on behalf of refugees.
Read his full Biography at Mark O. Hatfield Biography.