Hector Macpherson Jr. was a successful Oakville-area dairy farmer.
He served in World War II, when he flew 50 missions as a navigator on a B-17.
He was a father of five and a grandfather to 12.
But Macpherson, who died at age 96 on Saturday, will be remembered most as a trailblazing politician who helped shape Oregon as we know it.
In his lone term as a state senator, Macpherson authored legislation that created Oregon’s land use planning program and the Oregon Land Conservation and Development Commission — and preserved prime farm and timber land from urban development.
“I think the majority of people like what we’ve done with land use and feel we are way better off because of it,” Macpherson said, in a 2000 interview with the Democrat-Herald.
“So many people come to Oregon and look at what we’ve done, and say they wish their state had done this 20 years ago,” he added.
One of a kind
No other state has a land use law like Oregon’s, and no one made a greater contribution to that than Macpherson, said Henry Richmond, a Newberg-area retired attorney who founded advocacy group 1,000 Friends of Oregon with Gov. Tom McCall in 1974.
Macpherson was on the advisory board of the organization for about 25 years.
“There just doesn’t seem to be people like him in public service anymore. It’s regrettable,” Richmond said.
Former state representative Liz VanLeeuwen of Halsey said her close friend Macpherson was a true gentleman who saved farmland from being filled with houses.
“He worked hard, and I think he was very honest and dedicated,” she said.
Jason Miner, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Oregon, called Macpherson a hero with uncharacteristic foresight.
“He has done more than anybody in Oregon’s history for protecting our farmlands,” Miner said.
Son Greg Macpherson, a Portland-area attorney who also served in the Oregon House of Representatives, said his father was uniquely positioned to spearhead changes.
“My father was a farmer. … I think he had great credibility on these issues,” added Greg Macpherson, who is the chairman of the Land Conservation and Development Commission.
Rural residents and officials might have regarded an urban politician with caution, but Hector Macpherson had the proverbial dirt underneath his fingernails from his dairy operation.
He also had seen the loss of agricultural land to urban sprawl in the Willamette Valley in the 1950s, Richmond said. Macpherson was an honest, reasonable man, and he was able to draw diverse interest groups together thanks to his clout, he added.
“They knew that if a bill came to the Legislature with his name on it, if he was pushing for it, it was probably going to go somewhere,” Richmond said.
Macpherson, known to family as “Huck,” grew up on the family farm southwest of Albany, graduating from Corvallis High School in 1936 and Oregon Agricultural College in 1940.
While in college, he trained with the ROTC. While he wanted to become a pilot, he ended up as a navigator.
Macpherson and a friend were on their way to a service deployment in Panama when he visited his sister in New York, who was teaching home economics at a vocational college.
While there, he met Kitty Smith, the daughter of the school’s director. The two wrote for years until Macpherson was transferred back to the states for training. They married May 29, 1943.
After his discharge in 1945, Macpherson took over the family farm and joined local agricultural organizations. His membership in these associations led him to be invited to a special meeting called by the Linn County commissioners, who wanted to discuss whether to create a county planning department.
Macpherson lobbied for it and was eventually named to lead the government body.
A few years later, campaigning on his desire to save farmland from urban development, he was elected to the state Senate in 1970. Macpherson said he was simply interested in public service at a larger level, and it seemed a natural fit, as his father had served with the Oregon House of Representatives.
Larger farms were receptive to the land use changes Macpherson spurred, but some farmers were angry at him because they couldn’t develop their properties the way they wanted.
While in the Legislature, he also helped pass Oregon’s Bottle Bill, set aside transportation money for bike paths and rewrote the Willamette Greenway law to protect the rights of farmers.
He was defeated in a reelection bid in 1974, running as a Republican running after Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Being a champion of land use planning also might have impacted his popularity in rural Linn County.
Instead of running for office again, Macpherson went back to running the farm, and he also served for 10 years on the Land Conservation and Development Commission.
Greg Macpherson said his father gained respect and affection from whomever he encountered, whether in politics or in farming.
“He was a warm and caring person, but he could be stern when we were growing up. Because he had a farm to run and his sons worked with him on the farm, he was a commanding presence,” Greg Macpherson said.
That extended to politics and what many Oregonians view as his greatest accomplishment.
“He was able to do the stuff that he did because people respected him. People listened to him,” Richmond said.