When discussions are had about people who did all they could for the people of Hillsboro, Oregon the longtime residents all have their favorites. Many have former Mayor Shirley Huffman on that list. Before her death at age 90 she had cut quite a swath across the Oregon political landscape.
Raised in Dayton, Oregon which is a sleepy little farm town outside McMinnville she learned that small-town charm and stick-to-it attitude that would become hallmarks of her political career. She married her husband Tom, also from Dayton, and the couple settled into Hillsboro in 1954. Tom was an up and coming lawyer and Shirley worked in his law firm and was active in the church. The couple had a boy (Tom Jr.) and a girl (Julie) and were model citizens in Hillsboro.’
Shirley agreed to take up a City Council position after the resignation of one of the active members in 1977. She served on the City Council until 1984 and was so well-liked that she ran unopposed as Mayor in 1985 becoming the first woman Mayor in Hillsboro history.
Shirley ended up doing 8 years and termed out in 1992. At that time METRO had been planning the MAX Light Rail and was not going to run it West of 185th avenue. Huffman believed that the people of Hillsboro needed a connection to Portland. She fought for hundreds of millions in Federal funds and lobbied politicians at every level. Her efforts paid off and she would later be credited with the opening of the Hillsboro Central Max Station.
“Shirley’s vision and leadership brought MAX to Hillsboro, linking the region and its people together.”
Plaque at MAX Station- 200
Her time as Mayor included her travels to Fukuroi, Japan, in1988 to sign an agreement that created a sister city relationship. That led to the opening of several Japanese high-tech firms in Hillsboro. Among those firms were NEC, Fujitsu, and Epson whose gleaming plants earned the area the name the Silicon Forest. While these firms were somewhat short-lived and fizzled when the economy in Japan faltered, they set the stage for INTEL and many others who would follow into the City.
Once she left the Mayor’s chair she kept going working for the Chamber of Commerce, helping fund Community Action, leading the League of Oregon Cities, and spending years on the board of TRIMET. Despite her close relationship with TRIMET she was tough on METRO (who manages Trimet) and fought for cities to limit METRO’s powers over them. This had to have been a careful dance because they hold massive purse strings and the power to manage the three counties in the Portland area.
In 2014 The Oregonian quoted Shirley ; “I learned a whole lot about people,” Huffman said. “I learned that if they really have the issue at their heart, not just wanting to have it their own way but if they really understand what the issue is about, people can work together no matter where they are coming from.”
That same year the City of Hillsboro renamed the auditorium at the Civic Center the Shirley Huffman Auditorium. Her name and her image greet all who enter. Perhaps the most fitting way a person can be remembered.
I personally knew Shirley having worked with her on issues affecting Orenco where I make my home. We also worked together to push a garbage transfer station away from Hillsboro and later to defeat efforts by the State of Oregon to place a penitentiary on the North edge of the City. I did not agree with all of her policies, mainly over fears that growth caused by the MAX and the Industrial land build-up would go too far. Clearly, we are at a point where many feel it has. I will tell you this, Shirly Huffman was a woman of great principles and ability. She was a fair and giving person. She was a Mayor and a civic leader who deserves to be remembered.
She is our first Outstanding Person of Hillsboro.