Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Doris Gunn remembered

Doris Gunn's smile often had a playful mischievousness about it. If she suspected you of being susceptible to her thinking, her grin took on a hint of sly conspiracy. She was about to weld you to what was on her mind.

There was always something on Doris’s mind.

For behind her good humor and ease with others, burned a passion for reform that warmed all she met.

She was a spirit on fire for a better world.

Her fire went out, after 84 years, early in the morning of Oct 30 while she slept.

Family and friends gathered at her son’s house near Capitol Hill School on Saturday to recount the many ways Doris touched and inspired us.

Parked outside was her old white Ford Escort station wagon, a tired, old stallion bereft of its knightly driver.

It was plastered with peace and alternative energy bumper stickers, badges of honor. “I’m for Solar Energy and I vote!” read one. “War is not the answer!” proclaimed another.

The car still bore Oklahoma plates (888 MGS to be exact) even though the car and Doris had been in Oregon for five years. She came here because she wanted to be near her family. Here, she found a spiritual home.

Those of us from Hillsdale met Doris not long after she arrived here. She wanted to be with like souls and, laser-like, she sought them out.

She liked action. We first met her in the Hillsdale Farmers Market — her kind of place. When we decided to hold peace walks to Multnomah Village and back, Doris joined us. Her pace was understandably slower than ours. We adjusted. With Doris, you adjusted, always. In her good-humored way, she was irrepressible.

She grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, in an upper middle-class family. She lived most of her adult life in Oklahoma where she raised her three children. She is survived by them, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her background left her with a hybrid Southern/Oklahoma accent, a down-home wisdom and a raw sense of humor.

At the gathering, we learned from her children that Doris had run for lieutenant governor of Oklahoma in 1970. If it was a surprise to us, it was a shock to her husband back then when he learned about her candidacy in the newspaper. Years later, their lives divided and they divorced.

In the Democratic Party primary, she came in fifth in a field of eight. But, oh, to have heard her on the stump!

Doris was never, ever at a loss for words. Her children recounted how she would fill the phone answering machine with seemingly endless monologues and lectures. She would always end them with a curt notation of time and date.

She opposed the construction of a nuclear power plant near Tulsa and became involved in the Karen Silkwood trial. Swept up in the ‘60s civil rights movement, she spearheaded the integration of the Oklahoma City’s public schools. John noted her children were among the first whites to attend an integrated school there. The Gunns chose to live in a predominantly black neighborhood. She fought for the rights of native Americans in the state, for the welfare of the blind, for the Equal Rights Amendment. She belonged to the NAACP.

She was a prolific writer of letters to the editor and guest opinion columns. Her children spread Xeroxed samples of her writings out on the coffee table before us.

“Phyllis Schlafly’s mind twisted about World War” was the headline on one long letter written in 1983. “As a woman whose brother and several friends were maimed and murdered in World War II,” Doris began, “it is impossible for me to understand Phyllis Schlafly’s belief that war is jolly good for men but bad for women and children.”

A 1986 opinion piece in the liberal Oklahoma Observer bore the headline: “Righting America’s Wrongs” and began: “I have decided not to lie down and die of despair at the disgraceful behavior of my country. I am a U.S. citizen as Ronald Reagan and his space cowboys are citizens.”

The thought of Doris ever lying down in despair is not possible. Three days before she died, she directed her children to go to the post office to mail the actor/activist Ed Asner a letter opposing nuclear power. Because they didn’t or couldn’t always do all she told them to do, she insisted they return with a certification that the letter had been posted.

When she wasn’t writing for the media, she was hounding them to do their job. She was known to command networks in New York to come out to Oklahoma to cover one story or another.

In 1996 she wrote in one of her letters to the editor: “We are all one and can do a part in restoring the commons: common good, common decency, common sense, common courtesy, and common bonds to all life.”

On the table in front of us was a petition she had been circulating in the month before she died. It called for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Also on the table were scores of greeting cards she had bought over the years but never sent. They urged peace, harmony and citizen involvement.

Before we left, we passed around the petition and signed it. I chose seven cards from the pile. Yesterday I sent the cards and copies of the petitions with our signatures on them to the seven members of the Oregon Congressional Delegation.

I included a brief explanatory note. It read:

The friends and family of Doris Gunn, who died on Tuesday, Oct 30, have signed the enclosed petition in memory and honor of her passion for social justice and peace. Doris had prepared this petition and bought the card we also enclose. Doris’s passion was to make the world a safe and just place for her children and grandchildren — for all children and grandchildren, forever. We ask that you make her cause yours by supporting HR-2647, the Nuclear Disarmament and Economic Conversion Act. For the Doris Gunn petitioners,

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Anonymous Dee Koch said...

I was Doris' Massage Therapist on Barbur Blvd. I found a poem she had given me In 2004. She has left an imprint on my life. I have read every book she suggested or shared with me. She told me about the nuclear waste that was being transported through Oregon and out I-84 to Hanford! She loved her family, her country and her life! Her passion was for the betterment of all....especially women! I still feel her presence and think of her almost daily...though our time together was short....our relationship continues today!She gave me essiac, sambulco,ridge runners, the ordeal of change, and the chalice! What a great woman!What a gift...I was lucky to know her! She was and (I am sure)is still busy!

6:12 PM  

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