"You can take the boy out of the South, but you can’t take the South out of the boy.”
Attributed to Mark Twain.
Born in 1957, I grew up in a traditional setting in the South, in Little Rock, Arkansas.My father was a World War II Marine, an entrepreneur of the first caliber, an avid outdoorsman, a Southern gentleman of the old school—and truly one of the Greatest Generation. He passed away in 2004 and there is not a day that I do not try to emulate his character, honesty and integrity—and his dry sense of humor. That I have not always done a good job in modeling myself after him does not diminish that it is a laudable goal. My mother was—and is—quite a character—any who know Bailey White’s stories about her Southern mother will know what I mean.Now in her eighties, she frequently scolds us for not paying enough attention to her latest ailments: “You know what I want on my tombstone?” she often says. ”Have it say—‘I TOLD ‘em I was sick’."
In addition to being amusingly eccentric, my mother was and is a deeply devout Episcopalian, and that is the church in which I was raised.I was also raised, when my parents had their eventual problems, by a remarkable African-American woman of faith named Rose Wilkins, who had as much impact on me as any person I have ever known. My older sister, younger brother and I attended Trinity Episcopal School in Little Rock all through elementary school, and I have remained an Episcopalian most of my life—with the exception of my years as a Prodigal Son, discussed below.
My folks divorced and I was moved to Colorado Springs when I was 11, and my family life was not good for a number of years, due to a serious alcohol problem in our family. It was during those years that I recommitted myself to a life of faith in the Christian tradition. After graduation from Cheyenne Mountain High School in 1976, I spent one year at Northern Arizona University, and then, thinking I wanted to study pre-medicine and play football again—I had been a successful athlete all my life—I transferred to Lewis and Clark College in Portland in 1977.
My professional life really began at Lewis and Clark, but first I had to realize two important things about studying for medical school, things that would have dawned on a brighter mind much sooner: first, an awful lot of medicine is about science, and, two, I had no aptitude for science!So after that discovery, as well as accepting that I had no more fire for football—at 5’10” and 165 lbs, that was probably a good thing—I pursued studies in political science, graduating in 1980 with strong grades and a bright future.I also attended Lewis and Clark Law School, interned in the US Senate for Senator Mark Hatfield– a man of faith and integrity and as fine a statesman as our country has ever seen. Upon graduation from law school in 1983 with several academic successes, I commenced the practice of law for a small Portland firm.
At the personal level, in 1983 I had married a fine woman when I was just out of law school, we had a baby daughter, and we were active in community and church life.Then, after five years of practicing law, I took my commitment to public service on the Mark Hatfield model and decided to enter politics.In 1988, I ran for the Oregon Legislature, knocking off a popular incumbent, and began what appeared to be a rapid rise in Oregon politics. I entered politics for all the right reasons: I genuinely thought I could help people, that politics could be an honorable endeavor, and that our state needed new and creative ideas. I received numerous awards and commendations for outstanding legislative service during my two terms in the Oregon Legislature, and in 1992 at age 34, I was actually for a short time a candidate for Oregon Attorney General. My goal was to be the youngest Governor in Oregon history, and those who know politics in this state will tell you that I might just have made it.
However, somewhere along the way I lost my center, and serious personal problems—alcohol, divorce, and legal problems, all self-induced– took their toll (see Personal and Professional Disclosure Statement), and I left politics and gradually returned to the practice of law, starting in 1993. This, plus my active involvement in a 12 Step Program of recovery— as of 2009 I now have over 17 years of continuous sobriety– was the best thing that could have happened to me.The sudden years of brokenness and scandal, after what had seemed to be a rising career in politics, made me who I am today.
Professionally, beginning in about 1994, I began to take on large and powerful institutions, first governmental entities, utilizing my years in politics and public law to gain justice for ordinary citizens, and later more and more private institutions—banks, insurance companies, large corporations. I realized that my own experiences in politics, and my personal failures, had given me a thick skin and made me pretty relentless in litigation and trial.Eventually, I was given the chance to begin to represent sexually abused children, and men and women who had been sexually abused as children.Starting in late 1994, I found a passion for these wounded people, and it is not too much to say that in this work I have found purpose, meaning and gratitude. And so it is that I try to serve them with fierceness, skill and wisdom.
At a personal level, I remain active in a fellowship of recovery, in community and charitable affairs, and in the Episcopal Church. I commenced part-time graduate study of theology in 2003, and I expect to earn a Master of Divinity by 2010.I have no idea what I will do with that, but I love the learning process and am fascinated by the life of the mind—which is why I write, speak and teach so broadly.Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said that there are only three things in life that are “ends” in themselves—worship, love, and learning—and that everything else is just a means to one of those ends.I am trying to build my life around those things.
These days also I am an avid reader, writer, a lifelong golfer, occasional (and not very skilled) fly-fisherman, and a novice motorcyclist. In my younger and more grandiose days I used to fancy myself, with my many and divergent interests, as something of a “Renaissance Man”—but the truth is, I am just a guy with a short attention span!Still, some things are timeless, and I am fortunate to be close to many friends and to my family—my mother, my step-mother, my siblings, nieces and nephews, god-children, and most of all my daughter, who is now in graduate school on the cusp of her own bright future.I have not been able yet to find a happy marriage (now twice failed, mostly due to my own character flaws), but, in this as in all things, I remain an optimist.Today, my tasks are to tend to what has been given to me, to fight for those who have put their trust in me, to practice extraordinary kindness along the way, and to laugh.Every day I get a little better at these things.