Tom McCall, Governor

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Thomas Lawson "Tom" McCall

Birthdate: (70)
Death: 1983 (70)
Immediate Family:

Son of Henry McCall and Dorthy Lawson

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Immediate Family

About Tom McCall, Governor

Thomas Lawson McCall (March 22, 1913 – January 8, 1983) was an American politician and journalist in the state of Oregon. A Republican, he was the 30th Governor of Oregon from 1967 to 1975. A native of Massachusetts, he grew up there and in Central Oregon before attending the University of Oregon. After college he worked as a journalist including time at Portland's The Oregonian during World War II.

Later he worked in radio and then in television as a newscaster and political commentator. He made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 1954, losing in the general election to Edith Green. While working for TV station KGW, he produced a documentary on pollution in Oregon, which helped to spur environmental cleanup of the air and the Willamette River. In 1964, McCall won his first political office, Oregon Secretary of State, followed by two terms as Governor of Oregon. As governor he worked towards environmental clean up, the Oregon Bottle Bill, and public ownership of beaches on the Oregon Coast among others. Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Portland is one of several items named in his honor.

Early life and career

McCall was born in Egypt, Massachusetts on March 22, 1913. He was the grandson of copper-king Thomas Lawson and Massachusetts governor and congressman Samuel W. McCall. As a child he divided his time between Thomas Lawson's Massachusetts estate named Dreamwold and his father’s ranch near Prineville, Oregon named Westernwold.

Upon graduation from Redmond High School, McCall enrolled at the University of Oregon. Due to his family's growing financial problems he was forced to sit out long periods and took five years to earn his degree in journalism.

After graduating, he moved to Moscow, Idaho in February 1937 to write for the News-Review, and following a merger, the Daily Idahonian.


While on assignment in Moscow in February 1939, McCall met Audrey Owen, and they married three months later on May 20, 1939. They had two children: Thomas "Tad" McCall, an environmental consultant, and Sam McCall. Audrey McCall (February 26, 1915 - November 15, 2007), died in 2007 at the age of 92.

Journalism career

In March 1942 he was fired from the News-Review and traveled to Portland, Oregon to look for work. At the time the economy of Portland was booming due to World War II (McCall was told by the military that he was not eligible for enlistment due to bad knees and a recurring hernia) and journalists, still primarily men, were in short supply. He was quickly offered a job at The Oregonian at nearly triple his wages in Idaho.

While working on a story, an official of radio station KGW (owned by The Oregonian) approached McCall about reading a public service announcement over the air. The station management was impressed by his unique voice and offered him a job as a news announcer. He worked at KGW radio until 1949, when he became administrative assistant to Oregon Gov. Douglas McKay.[5] In 1952 McCall returned to KGW radio, where he served as a newscaster and political commentator until 1955, when he jumped from radio to television and KGW to KPTV.

McCall was a newscaster and commentator at KPTV, Oregon's first TV station, for about a year and a half. In November 1956 he followed colleague Ivan Smith out the door during a dispute with station management over placement of a sponsor's product on the news set. Just one month later, KGW-TV went on the air, with McCall and Smith as part of a durable news team that stayed together for seven years, until McCall's 1964 departure to run for Secretary of State.

Tom McCall led early efforts to help migrant workers. In September 1958 he led a meeting in Portland as chairman of the Steering Committee for the Oregon Committee on Migrant Affairs. This eventually led to groundbreaking migrant civil rights legislation passed by the Oregon Legislature in 1959.[citation needed]

In November 1962 McCall produced and hosted an ambitious KGW-TV documentary, Pollution in Paradise, which graphically portrayed the poor condition of the Willamette River and air quality throughout Oregon. The award-winning documentary Pollution in Paradise helped focus public attention on the problem. KGW repeated the program in January 1963 on the eve of the opening of the legislative session, and the 1963 Legislature was spurred to some of Oregon's early attempts at combating pollution. McCall also hosted a show on KGW called Viewpoint, which dealt with political issues of the day. McCall appears briefly (on a TV set) in the famous 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in a cameo role as a late-night newscaster, based on his experience at KGW.

Political career

McCall made his first run for office in 1954, winning the Republican nomination for Oregon's Third Congressional District seat over eight-term incumbent Homer D. Angell. He lost in the general election to Edith Green, who went on to hold the seat for the next ten terms.

In 1958, when Mark Hatfield was elected governor of Oregon, he vacated the position of Secretary of State. In his autobiography, McCall said he thought Hatfield had promised to appoint him to the unexpired portion of the term, but the job went to Hatfield associate Howell Appling instead. When Appling chose not to run for re-election in 1964, McCall sought and won the job. He was elected governor in 1966 and re-elected in 1970.

McCall's two terms as Oregon's governor were notable for many achievements in the environmental sphere, including the country's first "bottle bill",[8] the cleanup of the Willamette River, passage of a law to maintain former Gov. Oswald West's legacy of public ownership of the state's beaches, and the first statewide land-use planning system, which introduced the urban growth boundary around the state's cities. These achievements have done much to create McCall's enormous legacy in the state.

McCall is well known for a comment he made in a Jan. 12, 1971, interview with CBS News' Terry Drinkwater, in which he said:

“Come visit us again and again. This is a state of excitement. But for heaven's sake, don't come here to live.”

Vortex I

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In 1970 McCall was faced with a potential riot in Portland. In May of that year a week-long student protest at Portland State University over the Kent State shootings had ended with charges of excessive police violence. The American Legion had scheduled a convention in Portland later that summer; local antiwar groups were organizing a series of demonstrations at the same time under the name of the "People's Army Jamboree" and expected to draw up to 50,000 protesters.

After attempts to convince the People's Army Jamboree to either not carry out their plans or to move the date, McCall decided to hold a rock festival at Milo McIver State Park near Estacada, Oregon called "Vortex I: A Biodegradable Festival of Life," in imitation of the famous Woodstock Festival held the previous year.

"I think I just committed political suicide," McCall is reported to have remarked immediately after approving the event. Vortex was the first and so far only state-sponsored rock festival in U.S. history.

The festival, nicknamed "The Governor's Pot Party" by Oregonians, was a success, attracting between 50,000 and 100,000 people. Gold, The Portland Zoo, Osceola, Fox, and Chrome Cyrcus were among the bands that played. The media announced that Santana, Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead were on the way but none of them appeared. The feared violent clash between the antiwar groups and the conservative American Legion was avoided, and the city of Portland passed the summer relatively uneventfully. And in the general election that November, McCall was returned to office with 56% of the vote.

Back to journalism

Although his popularity was at its peak, Oregon's constitution prevented McCall from seeking a third consecutive term as governor in 1974. He returned to journalism, writing a newspaper column and serving as commentator for Portland television station KATU. He made an unsuccessful bid to return to the governorship in 1978, losing in the Republican primary to State Senator Victor G. Atiyeh, who went on to defeat incumbent Robert W. Straub.

After McCall's final attempt at the governorship a group launched an initiative to repeal McCall's most lasting legacy, the state's land use planning system, which included urban growth boundaries. Measure 6 went on the ballot for the 1982 election and McCall vowed to fight it to the end. McCall was dying of cancer and used the final months of his life making sure that Measure 6 did not pass.

End of life

During his campaign against Measure 6 McCall said, "You all know I have terminal cancer—and I have a lot of it. But what you may not know is that stress induces its spread and induces its activity. Stress may even bring it on. Yet stress is the fuel of the activist. This activist loves Oregon more than he loves life. I know I can't have both very long. The trade-offs are all right with me. But if the legacy we helped give Oregon and which made it twinkle from afar—if it goes, then I guess I wouldn't want to live in Oregon anyhow."

Measure 6 failed to pass in the 1982 election. McCall was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Portland just over a month after the election. McCall once said about death, "You're terminal from the minute you arrive. You've been going to go ever since you got here. Still it is unacceptable when the calendar hints that the prospect has lost its open-endedness. Despair strikes you and what was vaguely inevitable is barely down the road anymore."

Tom McCall died of prostate cancer on January 8, 1983, aged 69.


In 1968 Governor McCall created the Harbor Drive Task Force to come up with proposals to replace the riverfront freeway with a public space. A 37-acre (150,000 m²) park was built in 1974, running along the Willamette River for the length of downtown Portland. McCall was honored after his death when the park was renamed Tom McCall Waterfront Park in 1984.

In 1969, McCall played a major role in the founding of SOLV, an environmental non-profit organization whose goal is to "build community through volunteer action to preserve this treasure called Oregon."

The Tom McCall Forum, which pairs prominent speakers with opposing political viewpoints, is presented annually by Pacific University.

The Nature Conservancy named a nature preserve in Wasco County, Oregon after McCall.

Oregon schools that have been named for him include: Tom McCall East Upper Elementary School in Forest Grove and Tom McCall Elementary School in Redmond.

In 1998 McCall was inducted into the Hall of Achievement at University of Oregon's School of Journalism.

On October 10, 2006, the Salem Statesman Journal announced plans by a "committee of citizens" to fund and place a life-size bronze statue of the late governor in Salem's Riverfront Park.

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Tom McCall, Governor's Timeline

Age 70