Dave Frohnmayer: A life of public service

Dave Frohnmayer: A life of public service

EUGENE, Ore. - He retires soon as president of the University of Oregon, but before he even arrived on campus, Dave Frohnmayer packed a powerful resume of public service for the state.

As a legislator, attorney general and, since 1994, UO president, Dave Frohnmayer has cast a huge profile in Oregon for more than 30 years. 

His time as the AG was among the most turbulent in Oregon history thanks to one man and a Central Oregon commune.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh and his followers grabbed the headlines, formed their own town and ran afoul of the law.

"If you'd written it as a book of fiction," Frohnmayer said, "a publisher wouldn't have taken it because it seemed so improbable."

Rajneeshpuram had more guns than the Portland Police Bureau, more Rolls Royces than anywhere outside the factory, and all those followers in red robes: as Oregon's top cop, Frohnmayer had to face the commune and its foes and enforce the rule of law.

Frohnmayer talks about Rajneeshpuram

Frohnmayer said the commune posed "real threats to public peace that we needed to make sure did not result in some horrible Ruby Ridge or Waco type situation, which might easily had happened."

Frohnmayer filed lawsuits as part of a state and federal effort to shut down the commune.

He got the last laugh in an Oregonian newspaper cartoon (one of the first by Jack Ohman) of the period, with the caption "See you in court."

Third-party spoiler foiled "Gov. Frohnmayer"

"Dave Frohnmayer, Oregon attorney general -- and now a candidate for governor," intoned the announcer in a made for television campaign spot.

But it was not to be.

Frohnmayer lost to Democrat Barbara Roberts in 1990, finishing second in a three-way race after an independent candidate entered the race on the political right of Frohnmayer, a moderate Republican.

"Sure, I felt badly after the election," he said. "A friend of mine said it takes over a year to get over an election loss.  I don't think it took that long."

Frohnmayer talks about the 1990 election

His greatest personal quest, though, has been finding a cure for Fanconi anemia, the rare bone marrow disease that killed his daughters Katie and Kirsten.

Frohnmayer on Fanconi anemia

Frohnmayer and his wife, Lynn, are credited with putting awareness of the disease on the worldwide map through the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund.

From the state legislature, to attorney general, to a run for governor and ultimately to the office of president at the UO, it's been a long distinguished career of public service for the scholar from Medford.

Frohnmayer on public service

It's not over yet.

Frohnmayer said his philosophy of public service centers on 3 questions:

  • What do I want to do?
  • What do I want to be?
  • What is worth doing?

"It's not what I want; it's what has value? What's worth doing?" he said. "Service to others is worth doing."
Frohnmayer won't be a stranger at the University of Oregon. He'll stay on as a part-time professor at the law school.

Frohnmayer on the future of the University of Oregon