Sen. Mark O. Hatfield Information Wall

Information wall at the entrance to the Mark. O. Hatfield Research Center

After the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center was dedicated in 1998, a written chronicle of Mark Hatfield’s contributions to the improvement of health care in Oregon and throughout the United States was placed on a wall in the lobby of OHSU’s main hospital. Here is that text:

At the outset, Senator Mark O. Hatfield didn't expect to change the health of a nation. In fact, in 1935 he was a typical thirteen-year-old in the midst of the Depression, thrilled about his chance to attend an international Boy Scout Jamboree in Washington, D.C. Quite a departure for a boy from Salem, Oregon, Hatfield's mother, a schoolteacher, and his father, a railroad blacksmith, scrounged and saved to send Hatfield to the capital. Yet at the last minute the Jamboree was cancelled due to a polio epidemic there. "That was my first vivid memory," Hatfield recalls, "that health or disease could truly be an enemy. Even the health of people a nation away could have a significant impact on my life."

Hatfield's next exposure to the grinding effects of hunger and ill-health came years later as Lieutenant (j.g.) in the Pacific Theater in World War II. After Hiroshima, he was shipped to Haiphong to aid French troops. Landing on a verdant, colorful hillside, Hatfield's troops were surrounded by destitute, starving natives bloated by malnutrition and struggling to survive. This was an additional epiphany for Hatfield; a discrete moment in time when he realized the futility of armed struggle. Forever after, Hatfield would commit himself to improving the human condition across the globe. He was focused in his path: a lifetime of service upholding the basic value of human life.

After the war, Hatfield majored in political science at Stanford. There, he internalized the portentous words of a Latin American Studies professor: "Unless you understand the health problems of Latin America, you won't understand the politics," the professor insisted. "You simply cannot build public policy on the backs of sick people." Soon after, Hatfield went into education himself and served as Dean of Students at Willamette University in Salem. In 1951, he began his political career as an Oregon state Representative.

Pietro Belluschi, Arlene Schnitzer, Sen. Mark O. Hatfield

Pietro Belluschi, Arlene Schnitzer and Sen. Mark O. Hatfield at the dedication of the Institute for Advanced Biomedical Research, now the Vollum Institute

There, he launched a life spent fighting, in his words, "for factors that build stable populations at home and abroad: health, education, housing, and meaningful employment."

In 1955, while Hatfield was a state Senator, OHSU could not boast a teaching hospital. Medical students were educated throughout the community in local facilities. Dean David Baird, M.D., traveled to Salem bent on lobbying for creation of a teaching hospital. Hatfield found in Baird a mentor — one who vitally communicated the needs and purpose of a teaching hospital — and infected Hatfield with a vision of excellence at OHSU that would impact the health of Oregonians. Hatfield co-sponsored the bill in the State Senate and thus, University Hospital was born.

Hatfield's personal history led him to focus on life-enhancing activities — like health and education — rather than life-destroying activities, such as armed conflict. As governor, Hatfield introduced the first migrant health, education, and housing act in the nation. And from there, as U.S. Senator, his commitment to health multiplied regionally, nationally and abroad.

Building strong peoples and cultures across the globe became the passion of his political life. To him, this was a matter of national and international security. "We ought to send in international armies of doctors, nurses, engineers, and technicians," he said, "rather than deploying troops and defining national security in terms of megatons."

Hatfield was certainly not against military arsenals. Yet he yearned for a counterbalance of humanitarian and medical "warfare," research and protection. As the world became more mobile, sophisticated, and compact, Hatfield saw a concomitant increase in vulnerability to diseases. He advocated a "defense build-up" of health care and health research that was fundamental to the security of the nation. "One less B-2 bomber," he said, "could make a marvelous impact on the health front."

During the ensuing years, Hatfield became a consummate senior statesman in the U.S. Senate. As Oregon's longest serving Senator, he was active in national resource development and preservation. Throughout, he remained steadfast in his championship of civil rights and humanitarian aid both at home and abroad. He became known as a Senator who could easily build coalitions among disparate parties and factions, and had an innate ability to broker difficult alliances. "Politics," he would say, "is nothing more or less than an exercise in human relations. Political labels mean nothing in terms of trying to get people to focus on a need, such as health. Working together and collaborating always achieves far more than throwing rocks at the other side." During his career, Hatfield would become both ranking minority member and chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Mark O. Hatfield and former OHSU President Leonard Laster, M.D.

Sen. Mark O. Hatfield and former OHSU President Leonard Laster, M.D.

In the early 80s, it was as chair of Appropriations that Hatfield’s visionary commitment to health continued to flower. In Washington, Hatfield read in the Oregonian of ongoing debates in Salem over whether to close OHSU. Immediately, his commitment to action on OHSU's behalf was rekindled. Soon, OHSU President Leonard Laster, M.D., would take time to sit with Hatfield and share his perspective. "Laster shared a dream about excellence at OHSU," Hatfield recounts. "He was contagious — he had a brilliant vision to teach physicians to practice medicine with compassion." As chair of Senate Appropriations, Hatfield would garner over 300 million dollars for OHSU and the Veteran's Medical Center over the next decade and a half — often matched by OHSU Foundation funds dollar for dollar. And Hatfield would continue to work with current president Peter Kohler, M.D., to manifest the vision of everything OHSU could be.

But Hatfield's commitment to health infused citizens far beyond Oregon. Strongly supporting programs that improved the well-being of Americans, the nation's security, and the future of the country, Hatfield fought diligently and consistently to fund the National Institutes of Health (NIH). "NIH is an extraordinary example of a success story of what government does well," he said. "It's one of the finest centers of medical research, training, and health networking anywhere." And in 1997, the ground was broken for the premier clinical wing of NIH — the Mark O. Hatfield Clinical Research Center.

Through personal relationships, Hatfield's knowledge of — and commitment to — health proliferated. During the tragedy of his own father's battle with Alzheimer's, Hatfield redoubled efforts to increase Alzheimer research funding. In Washington in the 80s, Hatfield encountered a teenager in a wheelchair, terribly disfigured by Epidermolysis Bullosa (EB), a rare disease which strikes and deteriorates skin and connective tissue. Hatfield immediately escorted the man to a hearing of the Appropriations Committee and invited him to testify on rare, or "orphan" diseases. "There are over 3000 rare diseases with no hope of research or cure," Hatfield asserted. "Let's least offer hope."

Sen. Mark O. Hatfield delivering the commencement address to the OHSU School of Medicine, class of 1990

Sen. Mark O. Hatfield delivering the commencement address to the OHSU School of Medicine, class of 1990

He created a unique registry for EB, linking researchers with struggling patients across the country. He constantly helped secure rare disease research funding, and built enduring relationships with disease advocacy groups. He remained ever ready to offer one-on-one insight on how to increase support, lobby legislators, and make a difference on the community level. Hatfield assisted health advocacy groups in major fields as well. With a physician at Stanford, he created the National Center for Sleep Disorders Research. He persevered on behalf of the full spectrum of health disorders, from Parkinson's and AIDs, to cancer and heart disease, multiple sclerosis, infertility, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

"These were not only opportunities to become enlightened and educated, and to offer help," Hatfield said with classic modesty. "It was a blessing to make connections and friendships I otherwise never would have had."

Personally very religious, Hatfield has always been concerned about the ethical implications of medicine as well. During early intimations of a possible avenue for cloning humans, Hatfield described discussions in the scientific community as positively "Orwellian." At the same time, the Human Genome project was moving quickly ahead, and Hatfield was excited by the promise of genetic engineering to help battle disease. Yet, Hatfield knew ethical considerations were essential in the application of genetic research. He strongly advocated that these parameters flow from within the scientific community itself, and was instrumental in created the National Bioethics Advisory Committee (NBAC). This was the same body called by President Bill Clinton to recommend ethics in the controversial wake of Dolly, the cloned sheep.

In the last days of Hatfield's remarkable Senate tenure, he crafted a medical research funding scheme that would forever free up the NIH budget from shifting annual allocations. "For every dollar spent on medical research," Hatfield is fond of quoting, "at least 13 dollars are poured back into the economy via jobs, treatments and services." As a way to assure NIH would be able to rely on consistent support, Hatfield developed the idea of a medical research trust fund to supplement annual appropriations.

This trust fund idea — and Hatfield's great passion for medical care and research — followed him out of office. Among the plethora of awards bestowed upon him for his contribution to health care, perhaps the most rewarding was the 1995 Albert Lasker Public Service Award. Fully two-thirds of Lasker recipients go on to become Nobel laureates. And as soon as Hatfield announced his retirement, the Lasker Foundation invited him to head Funding First, a broad-based, national program to gain adequate, reliable funding for the best that medical research can offer. With advocates on Hatfield's committee from every sector — from newswoman Coke Roberts and actor Christopher Reeve to the Provost of Harvard and leaders in medicine and industry — Hatfield is sure to succeed in bringing his research trust fund idea to fruition.

Throughout his illustrious career there have been innumerable monikers that follow Hatfield's every action and stand. He is known as a humanitarian driven by conscience, ethics, and faith; a steward, a progressive, cutting-edge futurist; and an ambassador of health. But Hatfield does not believe in labels. In fact, he believes that at its worst, there may be no profession more self-serving than politics.

Yet at its best, public office surely offers a chance to serve, and to serve with unending integrity, as Mark Hatfield has done. Hatfield himself wishes to be remembered only as a man "that made some small difference relating to the quality of human life for everyone." It is this legacy that Hatfield has already bequeathed us throughout his distinguished political career. And it is this legacy he will continue to offer — to us, the nation, and the world — far into the future.

Statement from OHSU President Joe Robertson on Sen. Mark O. Hatfield's death