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`Dark visitor' hasn't gotten best of Charlie Porter.

Byline: Paul Neville / The Register-Guard

For most of my 2 1/2 decades as a reporter and editor at The Register-Guard, there was one thing I could always count on - a weekly call from Charles Orlando Porter.

"Hello, Paul, this is Charlie. How ya doin'?" they invariably in·var·i·a·ble  
Not changing or subject to change; constant.

 began. And usually, before I had a chance to tell him how I was doing, Charlie's raspy rasp·y  
adj. rasp·i·er, rasp·i·est
Rough; grating.

Adj. 1. raspy - unpleasantly harsh or grating in sound; "a gravelly voice"
grating, rasping, gravelly, scratchy, rough
, rascally ras·cal  
1. One that is playfully mischievous.

2. An unscrupulous, dishonest person; a scoundrel.

adj. Archaic
Made up of, belonging to, or relating to the common people:
 voice was off and running with his latest passionate cause - hooking up Amazon Creek with the millrace mill·race  
1. The fast-moving stream of water that drives a mill wheel.

2. The channel for the water that drives a mill wheel. Also called millrun.
 and turning downtown Eugene into the Venice of the Willamette Valley, removing the cross from the top of Skinner Butte, nationalizing the oil industry, normalizing relations with China, getting dastardly das·tard·ly  
Cowardly and malicious; base.

dastard·li·ness n.
 Republicans out of office and putting godly god·ly  
adj. god·li·er, god·li·est
1. Having great reverence for God; pious.

2. Divine.

 Democrats in their place and more. Much more.

In recent years, I hadn't heard much from the former Fourth District congressman and liberal icon, but I didn't give it much thought. His wife of nearly 60 years, Priscilla, had passed away in 2002, and I knew the loss had hit him hard.

I'd also heard that Charlie, well into his 80s, had closed his downtown law office and was devoting the bulk of his time to tilting at his latest windmill - the impeachment impeachment, formal accusation issued by a legislature against a public official charged with crime or other serious misconduct. In a looser sense the term is sometimes applied also to the trial by the legislature that may follow.  of the five U.S. Supreme Court justices whom Charlie believed had stolen the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush and, as he put it, "trampled on our sacred rule of law."

Last week, I finally heard from Charlie again. "Hello, Paul, this is Charlie. How ya doin'?" he said. It was Charlie, all right, but something was different. His voice was softer, and a weariness seemed to penetrate his words. There were long pauses, broken sentences, disjointed references. Then he told me what I already had sensed - he'd been afflicted af·flict  
tr.v. af·flict·ed, af·flict·ing, af·flicts
To inflict grievous physical or mental suffering on.

[Middle English afflighten, from afflight,
 by what he called the "dark visitor" - Alzheimer's. He wanted to know if I would be interested in writing about it.

I have more than a passing familiarity with Alzheimer's, having watched a family member and a couple of friends deal with this obscenely slow, cruel disease. But I had difficulty reconciling the idea of Alzheimer's and Charlie, who a former R-G political writer named Ron Abell once beautifully described as "brash, glib, witty, smarter than hell, younger than springtime, a political disaster, a martyr who won't stay dead, a chronic meddler med·dle  
intr.v. med·dled, med·dling, med·dles
1. To intrude into other people's affairs or business; interfere. See Synonyms at interfere.

2. To handle something idly or ignorantly; tamper.
, a thick-skinned egomaniac e·go·ma·ni·a  
Obsessive preoccupation with the self.

 who's lovable as a puppy, persistent as a bulldog, optimistic as a bride, moral as a preacher, imaginative as a mad scientist and beneath it all, where it really counts, an authentic American hero."

Charlie met me in the lobby of the Eugene Hotel, where he's lived the last several years. He will soon be leaving to move to the Emerald Valley Assisted Living as·sist·ed living
A living arrangement in which people with special needs, especially older people with disabilities, reside in a facility that provides help with everyday tasks such as bathing, dressing, and taking medication.
 Center. He looked surprisingly fit for an elderly man in the middle stages of Alzheimer's - a tad thinner, slower and more tentative - but still with the same glad-to-see-ya grip and grin and intense blue eyes whose gaze seemed to have turned inward.

We went to his fifth-floor studio apartment, which looked a lot like his old law office, including a wooden sign leaning up against a wall that read "Charles O. Porter Charles Orlando Porter (April 4 1919 - January 1 2006) was a politician from the U.S. state of Oregon.

Born in Klamath Falls, Oregon to Frank Porter and Ruth Peterson, he graduated from high school in Eugene, Oregon and then went on to graduate from Harvard University with
 Law Offices." The room was jammed with old easy chairs, a bed, bookshelves, a writing desk and a drafting table in front of a window that looked out - if you peered around the Kerry-Edwards campaign sign taped to it - on downtown and Skinner Butte.

His walls and shelves were filled with books and pictures - a picture of Charlie and Priscilla when they were first married, his law degree from Harvard and an award honoring him for founding the school's prestigious law review, a videotape of his 1959 appearance (he was the first congressman to be invited) on "Meet the Press," and photos of Charlie talking (yes, Charlie's always the one talking) with notables ranging from JFK to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Our conversation moved slowly. At times, I had to lean forward to hear what he was saying, and Charlie's sentences and thoughts sometimes disappeared down rabbit holes of forgetfulness Forgetfulness
See also Carelessness.

Absent-Minded Beggar, The

ballad of forgetful soldiers who fought in the Boer War. [Br. Lit.: “The Absent-Minded Beg-gars” in Payton, 3]

absent-minded professor
 and confusion. I could see his frustration as the words and ideas churned agonizingly just out of reach.

But then, suddenly, there were flashes of old Charlie - like flares exploding in a nighttime sky.

"Charlie," I asked, "remind me how many kids you have."

"Seventeen," he answered with a perfectly straight face. "Oh," he whispered, "you must mean the ones we can talk about."

A stack of library books on Alzheimer's on a nearby footstool brought us to the topic of his disease, which was diagnosed three years ago.

"I was shocked," he said. "I had to come to grips. But after I thought about it a while, I realized that I'm ahead of most people who never had any fun."

Oh, yes. Charlie Porter has had his fun. Fun getting elected to Congress at the whippersnapper whip·per·snap·per  
A person regarded as insignificant and pretentious.

[Alteration (influenced by whip) of dialectal snippersnapper.
 age of 37 and serving in an august delegation that included Wayne Morse, Richard Neuberger, Edith Green, Walter Norblad and Al Ullman. Fun building an outrageously overreaching Exploiting a situation through Fraud or Unconscionable conduct.  agenda as what he called "this nation's self-appointed secretary of state," arguing presciently for admission of China to the U.N. and for the United States to stop playing footsies with Latin American dictators such as Trujillo, Somoza, Batista and Peron. Fun running for office - and losing - at least a half-dozen more times along the way. Fun pulling in a six-figure income as a prominent attorney while taking up causes ranging from the Emerald Canal to the Skinner Butte Cross. Fun leaving a long trail of ardent friends and foes along the way.

Charlie smiles impishly imp·ish  
Of or befitting an imp; mischievous.

impish·ly adv.

 when I ask how he spends his time. "I go to church on Sundays - that'll surprise some people." He has a girlfriend whom he visits regularly and takes on occasional outings.

When inspiration and memory collide, he doles out "assignments" to friends on the impeachment effort or other longtime projects. And he makes occasional public appearances, such as a recent Kerry-Edwards fund-raiser where he stood up to speak "a few words" and eventually had to be cut off in mid-soliloquy.

When I asked Charlie what he wants people to know about him and his struggle with Alzheimer's, he said he was coping with the help of family and friends. "But that dark spot in my brain - it still exists."

For a foolish second, I thought Charlie was talking about Alzheimer's. But he wasn't - I had been duped. The dark spot, he went on to explain, was a Bush administration that was illegally put into power by the Supreme Court and "those five guys we're still going to get."

It's classic Charlie - promoting his latest cause, tilting at the biggest windmill in sight, climbing into the ring to dance 15 rounds with any heavyweight foolish enough to take him on.

As I was leaving, Charles Orlando Porter had one more thing to say. It was a reminder. An admonition Any formal verbal statement made during a trial by a judge to advise and caution the jury on their duty as jurors, on the admissibility or nonadmissibility of evidence, or on the purpose for which any evidence admitted may be considered by them. . A reassurance. "I'm doing all right," he said. "I've had a lot of fun along the way, so don't pity me."

Paul Neville ( is an associate editor at The Register-Guard.
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Title Annotation:Columns
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Article Type:Column
Date:Aug 8, 2004
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