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Boomerpdx Remembers Historian Thomas Vaughan


Most baby boomers who’ve worked for important companies never meet the big guy.

You apply, go through human resources, or the personnel office, meet the department head, co-workers, and go at it for the next few decades.

Thomas Vaughan met everyone before they got with the Oregon Historical Society program.

He made it personal. How personal? As only a historian can be personal.

The Vaughan’s held events at their house. Christmas party? The staff moved from 1200 SW Park up to Myrtle Street each year. Not a party at work, or restaurant, but in their house. Who does that?

Each event or party was a chance to see gracious manners imported from the old school. The Yale man respected the details of polite society, but he also had the Marine Corps experience to deal with less than polite moments.

That’s a classic American combination in any package and the perfect fit to lead Oregon history.

From 1954 to 1989 he moved OHS from the usual back burner of local interest to the forefront of regional and national attention. You get that when the Queen of England bestows honors on you. You get that when the Magna Carta shows up in the house.

Speaking of houses, most agree that moving out of a long-term residence is one of the big stress moments in life. It’s probably more stressful when the house is a SW Portland beauty. Maybe ten thousand square feet with multiple floors and basement, the Vaughan family house seemed from another era.

It had a European feel in color and decor, a showcase that invited visitors in without the caution alert of other fine homes.

The moving crew he hired were museum trained. They were used to handling important things without breaking them. Inside the boss’s house everything was important, and there was Mr. Vaughan in shorts, shirts, and safari hat like it was just another adventure, not a life changing event.

Portland boomers know the drill. Kids grow up and move into their own lives. Parents find themselves living in a smaller space within a larger house. Eventually the day comes to move to a smaller house, or build one. The results vary.

For some it’s freedom from the burden of the family house, for others a chance to start over. On moving day, Tom Vaughan set the tone early. It was a chance to party. The food and drinks that day weren’t so much a farewell to all that, but the dawn of a new era.

Part of the move ended up in a local penthouse. Another part landed in a Washington river house. If you ever have to move, that’s the way to do

Thomas Vaughan’s life travels are a good example of how to do it. Find a place to land and sink roots. Then enjoy the riches that such a life presents.

If you met the man and shared a conversation, it’s easy to see him meeting the staff at his next stop. It’s easy to see St. Peter taking notes on public speaking.


Mrs. Vaughan


“She knew how to do everything,” Tom Vaughan said.  “She could play the guitar, piano and sing; she was an ardent hiker.  But she wasn’t off-putting or formidable.  She was as warm as a spring day.”  (from the Oregonian) 

She didn’t come to Oregon in a covered wagon, but she would have.

She came from the midwest with her husband, just like the pioneer women, then blazed her own trail.

Is it too much to say she was a woman to judge all women against?

States like Oregon draw people with different ideas; they bring out something extra in citizens new and old who make history with a twist.

Ernest Hemingway calls courage ‘grace under pressure.’

Mrs. Vaughan carried the sort of grace that defines courage.  She would have taken Dr. John McLoughlin’s hand in 1836 and said, “We had a lovely journey and would enjoy your company for dinner in our new home.”

He would have showed up, anyone would, and been the better for it.

Dr. McLoughlin would have had a secret crush, just like anyone else who ever met E.A.P. Crownhart Vaughan.

The Sherry.

(published in 2011)




About David Gillaspie


  1. Matt Oftedahl says:

    Brilliant. Summing up a giant of History, while making him human instead of a marble statue.

    • David Gillaspie says:

      He is a true giant with an equally giant shadow. Chet made a pretty good case for that. Who else has left such a foot print? Even better, he stayed at OHS for the long haul instead of making a run.

      Like my brother Steve says, the big time is happening right where you are. You just have to be sharp enough to see it.

      Thanks Matt

  2. David-
    Thank you for all of your kind words about Tom and Sherry.

    They loved you dearly and were so pleased you were at the OHS.
    I shall never forget the day that dad came home and told me that he had hired a marvelous young man who happened to be a Greco Roman Wrestler! I think he felt a great sense of relief knowing that you would, if called upon, help to protect the great treasures inside those magnificent walls.
    They were a rare breed- other worldly- and are missed immensely.

    It will be a pleasure to share your story with my siblings!

    Best to you-


    • David Gillaspie says:

      Hey Cameron,

      After I got married your dad told me successful people lose focus when they don’t make time for their family. He said they only live half a life when that happens. His warning was one of best things I’ve ever heard and I’ve applied it to my kids, to their chagrin.

      Your folks were a rare breed, the sort who did things and others learned how it’s done. Your mom played the piano during Bob Stark’s memorial at your house and it made me think, “This is how goodbyes are supposed to feel.” Other worldly to say the least.

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