I was born in Portland, lived my first six years on a farm in Baker during the Depression, moved to Portland, lived in 28 houses, and attended eight elementary schools, Benson and Franklin High before joining the Navy at 17, Boot Camp in Memphis and NATTC Norman, Okla., learning aviation mechanics. We sailors were invited to dances at the U of O, and seeing a pretty dark haired girl, I asked for a dance. She agreed, and I asked her for a date that weekend. She said, "Sorry, my friend, that lieutenant over there, and I have already made plans. "Well," I said, "may I at least ask for your name?" "Sure. I'm Maria Tallchief." Ah! Later, she was America's greatest ballet dancer! And a couple weeks later I was walking down a hall on base, and here comes a beautiful gal! She says, "Hello, Sailor!" Wow! It was Natalie Wood! But she wouldn't. The war had ended, so I went to Tinker Air Base to hitch a ride to NYC where my mother lived. I had to refuse a pilot, Gene Kelly, of 'Singing in the Rain,' because he was going to Omaha! Then, in NY, I caught rheumatic fever, spent five months in a Navy hospital in Dublin, Ga., (five days in the brig for a for a fight in a bar!), was discharged, attended NYU for a semester and flunked out.
Paraphrasing Lincoln, all I was and ever hoped to be I owed to my angel mother, Ruth Cooper, the Navy (that gave me needed discipline), the G.I. Bill of Rights (that gave me an education, Lewis & Clark, and The Oregonian (which printed 68 of my letters-to-the-Editor and several guest editorials). I was a public school teacher for the next 10 years, one in Japan for the Army, then a principal (Brownfield, Alberta, Canada) then two years at Wenatchee Valley College and finishing two more degrees at U of O, taught political science at NTSU in Denton, Texas, (founded an ACLU chapter, President for a year) and then 24 years at PSU. But in Dallas, in a doctor's office, a foolish woman asked why I was there. I said, "My 2 year old daughter is being examined." "Oh, what for?," she asked. I replied, "She has brain cancer." "Oh Dear! How sad. But God will take care of her. All our lives are in His plans for us." I responded, "You show me the God that gave my daughter cancer, and I'll beat the crap out of the son of a bitch!" She had no more to say. Sweet, beautiful little Renata died a year later.
Throughout, I had three other children, a daughter, Lee, who is the matriarch of of a fine extended family in San Antonio, Texas; a son, Genji, who is a senior officer in a California Co. criminal justice system; and another son, Kenji, a world famous violist/composer. My stepdaughter, Dasha, is a top-class computer graphics artist in Moscow. These all have given me seven great-grandchildren; and three great-great-grandchildren.
At PSU I was in the Senate, was first head of AAUP union, and as such, could enter any meeting, so I intruded on a salary committee meeting, gave a long speech on strong unionism, there was pause; then Prof. John Erdman, math, said, "Ralph, you're a trombone in a string quartet!" (Best putdown ever!) I was the first president of Oregon Common Cause, ran for Congress 1972-1974. Met Shirley McClain at the Convention, talked for 20 minutes and she agreed and gave a speech for my campaign in Mountain Park, but I lost because the PSU President, Dean Anderson, threatened to cut my teaching and salary in half. (He was a campaigner for Edith Greene, who hated my guts because of Common Cause efforts to limit terms, reduce money in politics, and call for transparency). I sued Anderson and won, but it gutted my campaign. But it wasn't a great campaign; after a half hour with Ted Kennedy cutting radio ads, I found I had put the tape in backwards! (And that guy thought he should be a Congressman!?) I told Ted a year later, and we had a good laugh. So I took a sabbatical to circumnavigate the world, met two sweet young ladies in Irkutsk on the Trans Siberian; we had dinner and walked on the ice of Lake Baykal. They, Australians, visited me in Portland; we still write.
When I retired from PSU, I took a job teaching at the University of the Humanities in Moscow, three blocks off Red Square, paid by George Soros. There, I met the most wonderful woman nature ever produced, Eleonora Andreevna. At age 3, thrown on a plane in Belarus when the Nazis attached, took refuge in Georgia, her father, a pilot died in the war. her mother, without schooling, taught herself and Elya to read and be first in every endeavor. She was, first on graduation from elementary and high school, winning the gold, first in math at Moscow State U., first in the first Russian cybernetics inst., hired to write the program for a truck factory on the Volga, and then hired into the Kremlin for 10 years to run a computer lab. Beautiful, intelligent, charming, talented in gardening, knitting, ceramics and a wonderful wife for 17 years; she died of cancer in 2012. My life has been nothing since then, but it was as good as it ever gets up till then, except I became a poet and wrote one about her life. It became a song cycle by Prof. John Vergin of Reed; hear it on internet: https://youtu.be/wV6yoGz-ewg and made into a play produced by Dennis Britten, Light Opera of Portland at the Alpenrose Opera House in 2019.
You expected an obituary and got an autobiography. Sorry, I do it my way! See you all in Heaven - if I can see that far from a place where it's quite smokey.
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