Mrs. Vaughan

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February 17, 2011 by David Gillaspie

“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) 

Dr. John McLoughlin welcomes the first women to cross the continent by covered wagon in 1836 (rotunda mural detail). By Barry Faulkner and Frank H. Schwarz

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.     

For instance, I left Oregon on a two year flier to New York City in the late 70’s.  After I’d gained the proper perspective, I bought a ticket home.  Portland was perfect after Brooklyn’s Sunset Park.

Maybe all men in their mid-twenties feel the same, but I wanted to do something in Oregon that couldn’t be done anywhere else. 

The Oregon Historical Society fit the dream. 

Up until then, I’d met generals in the Army and CEOs while working on Wall Street.  (EF Hutton used to throw huge formal Christmas parties at the Wall Street Club, not where I’d expect to find myself, but there I was.  The big guys made a show of working the room.)

When I interviewed with Tom Vaughan, I got the CEO/General feeling.  I noticed things that seemed out of context.  Here was a big man with a big voice, a leader and a visionary, yet he showed a sort of kindness when he didn’t have to.

He asked me the usual interview things, I gave the usual interview answers, then to my surprise he asked about my athletic background.  I looked athletic?  He seemed to acknowledge the effort it takes to do any sport, and the extra effort wrestling demands.  I found out later he was a Marine in WWII.  Demanding.

There was something extra about him that didn’t show up right away.

Then I met Mrs. Vaughan.  She was in her early fifties, younger than I am today, and yes, she was as warm as a spring day.

Unmarried guys dating in their twenties might think they’ve got things figured out regarding their life in general, and women in particular.  They might have their own vision they work to realize, but what happens when a game-changer comes along?

To call Mrs. Vaughan a standard of excellence might be gilding the lily, with apologies to Shakespeare, but there she was.  If her husband was a force of nature, she was nature.

She had a calmness, a serene quality, that camouflaged intellectual drive.  Who learns Russian in middle age?  Mrs. Vaughan

She had a generous streak without boundaries.  Who throws their house open to a hundred people and makes everyone feel special, instead of just going through the motions?

When the Vaughans moved the first time, I joined a crew for the job.  Mrs. Vaughan asked me too keep an eye on her husband, that he would over do it otherwise.  That’s the love and leadership that doesn’t come with off-the-shelf people.  (We say go ahead and hurt yourself.)

They had a special couch with a special name, (the Snugglry?)  Mr. Vaughan moved to pick up one end.  Now one man shouldn’t tell another to stand down, especially the boss, but I had the secret code.

“Mrs. Vaughan wants you to save you back.” 

“Well, in that case, I’ll check with her.”  

Those words turned out to be one of the most important phrases in my twenty-five year old marriage; a good lesson learned early.

When they moved a second time, many from the first crew showed up.  You’ve heard moving is stressful?  Change is stressful?  That watching family treasures break is stressful?  Mrs. Vaughan sailed through it all on the winds of good will and gentle guidance.   

Being around them during their moves was a trip to another time, where couples put their best foot forward and acted like it’s easy; who made it seem normal.  When you get married, you learn new things.  The difference with the Vaughans had to be the footwear; you knew she wore steel toed boat shoes. 

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.


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