Paul Blackburn is no longer mayor and is preparing to move to Washington, D.C., for the foreseeable future, but he’ll be remembered for that role and others:
Columbia Gorge United Way president, Teacup Nordic Center president and organizer, Visitor Advisory Council, co-organizer of what is now the Hood River County Library District, and the local Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.
“They’re going to need your skills in D. C. for mediation,” one citizen told Blackburn at a recent reception in his honor.
The list of roles starts at his own doorway: The house concerts he and his wife, Dr. Kristen Dillon, hosted every few months for the past 17 years, and his off-and-on musical endeavors, including the band Red Headed Boys, which had a rotating line-up of people that were not always boys and not always red-headed, but they loved to make music, generally of the bluegrass shade, and Blackburn was there with his banjo.
Two offbeat ones:
He unofficially claimed the title of “America’s only Spanish-speaking, banjo-playing mayor.” (He also pulled out his ukulele on occasion, and honored me by playing in my 60th birthday band “Coolerheads Prevail.”)
Little-known fact: For years, Blackburn has had a beater pickup truck he loans to friends in need of means to haul stuff. Thanks, Paul.
Blackburn started the Mayor’s Latino Advisory Council, and convened the periodic Pie With the Mayor open houses at local cafés. Blackburn visited the Hood River Sister City of Tsuruta, Japan, as councilor and mayor, met with tribal members and other nations, and promoted October Indigenous Peoples Day, replacing Columbus Day in Hood River, three years ago.
In recent months, he began each council meeting asking that “we take a moment and remember that this place we love and call home was home to people who were here long time before us.”
Blackburn’s roles and contributions were detailed at his final council meeting, Aug. 26, where he received the key to the city from Council President Kate McBride, and a standing ovation from the 50 or so citizens present.
At a reception at the Fire Hall earlier that day, other citizens thanked Blackburn for accomplishments such as passing the 2016 resolution for Sanctuary/City of Inclusivity. McBride called it “a great accomplishment, we really appreciate that.”
She also credited him for championing the Hood River Energy Plan, and his leadership during “a couple of snowpocalypse events” and the 2017 Eagle Creek Fire, “which affected a lot of people in Hood River.”
McBride said, “My personal recollection of Paul — he’s so dear to my heart, he’s been steadfast as a leader. He’s always a big picture thinker, I get into the weeds sometimes and he says, ‘Come on back up here.’ He keeps the big picture in mind, listening to everyone. His greatest strength is compassion for people. He always thinks of people first. It’s just amazing.
“We have citizenry here that are very passionate and engaged and Paul always gives them a chance to have their say. He’s a great referee and mediator, and he allows the council to give all their opinions, but he brings it all together at the end, and we walk out of the meetings friends and shaking hands,” she said.
“We don’t always agree or have 100 percent consensus, but we all respect each other because you promote that atmosphere, Paul.
“The thing I will miss the most is you have been a champion for the underserved residents of the community, and you have always made a special effort to reach out to those people.”
Arthur Babitz, Blackburn’s predecessor, thanked Blackburn for a smooth transition five years ago.
“It’s always tough when you put a huge amount of effort to turning things over, and knowing Paul, I was not at all worried and he has certainly more than lived up to my expectations. He made it easy for me to disconnect and live my own life. Thank you for making it easy to get my life back.
“It’s very exciting you’re following your wife to D.C. to start a new adventure and we wish you the very best,” Babitz said.
City Manager Rachael Fuller told Blackburn, “Thank you on behalf of the (city) organization.
“You spend so much time out in the community with your constituents, but one thing I always appreciated and the staff appreciates is you take an extra minute to say hello to staff and are supportive of staff. We will miss you.”
County Commission President Mike Oates harkened to a joint role he held with Blackburn eight years ago, on the Hood River Education Foundation, forming the initial Library Board after the library was closed by the county for a year.
“Of all the public boards I’ve been on, it was the most interesting and rewarding,” Oates said. “We started with an old building and some old books and we had to set up a governance, and job descriptions, and go out and get a grant to hire someone to come in and kind of set things up, and we did all that as a group of five lay people who none of us knew what we were getting into and it was the most rewarding board I’ve ever been on, and Paul was right there at the center of it.
“Your leadership has always been very inspiring,” City Council Member Jessica Metta said, thanking Blackburn for being a supportive listener in her early times on the council.
Megan Saunders told Blackburn she appreciated his “willingness to always give your time and talk folks through an issue. It’s something special you do for a lot of people.”