Farewell, Thomas Vaughan

Thomas Vaughan caricature

Thomas Vaughan caricature

Yesterday I attended the memorial service for Tom Vaughan, who was the director of the Oregon Historical Society for 35 years. The service was held just across the street from OHS, at the First Congregational Church. Vaughan died December 6, at the age of 89.

The guest list was a regular Who’s Who of powerful Oregonians, including Governor John Kitzhaber. They had rubbed shoulders regularly with Vaughan, who made sure that Oregon’s history was everyone’s business. One of the speakers was Jack Ohman, former editorial cartoonist at The Oregonian and now at the Sacramento Bee. A caricature he made of his friend Vaughan before Ohman departed for California was on display in the lobby of the Oregon Historical Society. The voice bubble had Vaughan saying, “I am a man of few words.” And then a second bubble: “. . . Let me elaborate.”

Kerry Tymchuk, OHS Director, at memorial

Kerry Tymchuk, OHS Director, speaking at memorial

Vaughan was famous for his conversation skills and his very deep and very slow voice. He was definitely a card-carrying member of the S.T.O.A., the association invented in an old Bob & Ray comedy routine, the Slow Talkers of America. I interviewed him many years ago for a column I did for The Oregonian’s short-lived Kids’ Page. I hope a lot of kids did read the interview. He really brought the Lewis & Clark Expedition alive, talking about the fact that most of the members of the Corps of Discovery were mere boys having the greatest adventure of their lives.

Later, after Vaughan retired from OHS and was succeeded by a man who was, to put it succinctly, a poor fit, I wrote a cover story for the Northwest Magazine about the state of trauma that prevailed at the Oregon Historical Society after Vaughan’s long tenure came to a close. He was a true gentleman in that, although I’m sure he had strong feelings about the shortcomings of his successor, he declined to be interviewed for my article.

It’s hard to imagine a man who is a better symbol of the spirit of Oregon, unless it is Dr. John McLoughlin, who is known as the Father of Oregon. I say, let there be two Fathers of Oregon!

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