Along the waterfront of Portland, Oregon is a statue of a woman sitting in a position like she is inviting you to come tell her your story. Thousands walk, run, and bike by her every day. I wonder how many of those people know her story.
Her name is Vera Katz, and she is the very best of America.
Her parents were Jews who fled the Anti Semitic pograms of Russia in 1917.
Unfortunately, they fled to Germany.
Vera was born within weeks of when Adolph Hitler came to power. When Vera was an infant, her parents and her escaped to Paris. Once again….their place of refuge did not work out. In 1940, Hitler’s Nazis invaded France. Vera was only seven. Her parents once again made the decision to flee. They led her by foot across the Pyrenees mountains to board a Greek steamship bound for a place where they could live free, worshiping any way they chose:
They would start their lives in the new world as poor refugees in Brooklyn, but Vera would move to Portland at age 35.
In 1968, she volunteered for the Presidential campaign of Robert F. Kennedy. She was inspired by him, and crushed when he was assassinated just ten days after visiting Portland. She dusted herself off and decided to get more involved in local politics.
Five years later, she was elected to the Oregon Legislature. Through her hard work, perseverance, and charisma she would rise. She became Oregon’s first female Speaker of the House, a job she would keep for three terms.
She then became the mayor of Portland from 1993 to 2005. She fought for the arts, education, equality, and gay rights long before it was popular to do so.
In 2017, she succumbed to Leukemia.
We name streets, mountains, lakes, towns, etc. after the people we admire the most. Sometimes we even erect a statue in their honor. It is not simply a reward to them but a message to the rest of us, teaching us the stories of the greatest who have come before us, and challenging us to be more like them.
Vera Katz not only deserves that statue, but deserves to have her story known.
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