Mark O. Hatfield, Oregon’s first statesman, dies Sunday at 89

PORTLAND, Ore. (The Oregonian) — As a 23-year-old Navy officer in 1945, Mark Hatfield was among the first American servicemen to personally see the destruction wrought upon Hiroshima by an atomic bomb. It was an experience that helped shape Hatfield into an outspoken critic of war as he went on to become a two-term Republican Oregon governor, then the longest-serving U.S. senator in Oregon history.

Throughout his long Senate career, Hatfield repeatedly opposed defense spending and urged the country to focus on combating world hunger, poverty and illness. As a well-known Christian evangelical who often spoke to religious groups, Hatfield was a beacon for many who believed their faith called them to oppose war and to care for those in need.

“No one has had a more profound impact on Oregon in the last half century than Mark Hatfield,” Gov. John Kitzhaber said in a statement. “We’ve lost a true statesman whose legacy lives on in his countless contributions to Oregon’s quality of life. Senator Hatfield’s moral compass, independence and willingness to reach across the aisle are an inspiration to me and countless Oregonians.”

An accomplished man

Hatfield’s long list of accomplishments became memorialized around the state long before his death as buildings, research centers, lecture series and institutes were named for him.

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Senator Mark O. Hatfield in office, 1979. (Photo Jim Vincent)

Behind the statuary and brushed metallic letters that came to represent the Hatfield legacy was a complex man who knew how play raw power politics but was also willing to take great risks for his principles. Doubters sarcastically dubbed him “Saint Mark” while supporters saw him as that rare politician who deserved to be called a statesman. Travis Cross, his closest aide and alter ego during the first half of his political career, once said people were either struck by Hatfield’s sincerity and one-on-one warmth, or eager to pick apart the man behind an image too good to be true.

“I like to be thought of as a person who strove to reconcile,” Hatfield said in a 2002 interview, one of the last of his life. He expressed sorrow at “how much money we are spending to destroy life and how little money we are really giving now for a strategy of sustaining of life.”

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