Eugene@150: 'Lion of Senate' a grandfather at home

Eugene@150: 'Lion of Senate' a grandfather at home

EUGENE, Ore. - How do you describe Wayne Morse?

A farmer, a lawyer, the “Tiger of the Senate” - the man who helped stop the state from closing the University of Oregon in Eugene, and one of few men in power to vote against U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

No celebration of Eugene at 150 years old - nor history of the Senate in the 20th century - should neglect mentioning Wayne Morse.

Whether you liked him or not (or are just learning about him), Morse was never at a loss for words.

“My charge against my government is we're not giving the American people the facts,” he said in May 1964, just months before the Gulf of Tonkin vote in the Senate that broke the door wide open on Vietnam.

“I have complete faith in the ability of the American people to follow the facts if you'll give them,” Morse told "Face The Nation" on CBS in May 1964.

“He wasn't afraid to step up and swing the bat,” said Keith Richard, retired archivist of the University of Oregon.

His record of public service is written into Oregon history: Politician and 4-term U.S. senator; law school dean; labor arbitrator.

Wayne Morse did it all.

But Melanie Lee of Eugene knew Morse best as grandfather.

“I always felt safe with grandfather," she told KVAL News. "I loved to sit and watch him talk for hours."

Fresh from Minnesota, Morse arrived in Eugene in 1929 at the University of Oregon, a decade before the Tall Firs of Oregon would bring home the national basketball championship.

He became the law school dean in '31.

The next year, Morse took on the chancellor of the State System of Higher Education "who had been the president of Oregon State College and wanted to consolidate the 2 campuses into 1,” explained Dr. Margaret Hallock, director of the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics at the UO law school.

Morse essentially ran his first political campaign for the UO.  

“He was willing to fight against Oregon State and their president and lobbied the legislature," archivist Richard told KVAL News. "He gained a great statewide reputation during this conflict and later decided to run for public office.”

In 24 years in the Senate, Morse built a reputation as an outspoken maverick.
“I think the main lesson is to be courageous," Hallock said. "He was not a fair-weather politician.”

Morse’s opposition to Vietnam proved eerily prophetic.

“We’re going to be bogged down in Southeast Asia for years to come," he said, "and we’re going to kill thousands of American boys.”   

“I miss him, especially in terms of I wish he were here in Washington D.C. helping,” his granddaughter Lee said.

The Wayne Morse legacy lives on at the Morse Free Speech Plaza outside the Lane County Courthouse; at the U.S. Federal Courthouse; and the Morse Center for Law and Politics at UO.