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Remembering Dave Frohnmayer

<p>Dave Frohnmayer</p>

Dave Frohnmayer

Former state attorney general and UO president David Frohnmayer has died. His family says his death came after a five-year battle with prostate cancer.

Frohnmayer was a charismatic leader and intellectual. Colleagues say he was good at bringing people together on all sides of controversial issues. He was an attorney who began his political career in the Oregon Statehouse, representing southern Eugene for three terms in the 1970s and '80s. The Oregon House honored Frohnmayer during Tuesday's session with a moment of silence.

Some legislators shared their memories of Frohnmayer, including Democrat Lew Frederick.

"I remember him most for his Dorchester Conference events where he was easily the funniest politician I've ever met in my life," Frederick said. "He was able to bring humor to very serious issues and get everyone working together."

Frohnmayer was elected attorney general in 1980.

Former Governor Ted Kulogoski served as Oregon's AG after Frohnmayer. He remembers feeling he had big shoes to fill.

"David was an outstanding lawyer. Actually he was a lawyer's lawyer," Kulogoski said. "From the way he conducted the operation in the Attorney General's office to the fact that when there was a case for the United State Supreme Court, David argued those cases on behalf of the State of Oregon."

Brent Walth, managing editor of Willamette Week, says one of Frohnmayer's most important legacies was as attorney general, creating and clarifying public records laws in Oregon.

"He published a manual and guidelines that made it clear that we should have transparent government in Oregon," Walth said. "He did it more than anyone else to guarantee that we have strong and clear public records laws. He wanted open government, and he did more than anyone else to guarantee that Oregon could have it."

In 1990 Frohnmayer ran on the GOP ticket for Oregon governor against Democrat Barbara Roberts and Independent Al Mobley.

Gay rights and abortion were prominent issues at the time. Frohnmayer was a moderate, and he didn't have support from some conservative Republicans.

"The challenge from the right from the conservative group made it very difficult for Frohnmayer to navigate," said Walth, who covered the race for the Eugene Register-Guard at the time. "Oregon is a moderate state and yet he lost the Republican base. And it was very difficult, in turn, to attack Barbara Roberts on the left. They agreed on a lot. He was very much caught in the middle."

Frohnmayer lost to Roberts in the gubernatorial race by about 5 points.

He later went on to become a law school dean and then President of the University of Oregon for 15 years.

David Schuman is a senior judge in the Oregon judicial department and UO law professor. He remembers Frohnmayer as a powerful voice at a time when the UO was considering cutting the law school.

"He rallied the law school community and convinced the powers that be that it would be a serious error for Oregon to become one of only two states in the union not to have a public law school," Schuman said. "And the law school not only survived but thrived."

As president of the university, Frohnmayer was a successful fundraiser, and initiated recruiting programs to bring students in from California and other states.

Frohnmayer and his wife, Lynn, had three daughters with a rare disease called Fanconi Anemia. Katie and Kirsten Frohnmayer both died of the illness. The Frohnmayers founded a research fund in 1989, back when little was known about the disease.

Laura Hays leads the fund today. She says Frohnmayers' fundraising supported breakthroughs in the understanding of Fanconi Anemia.

"Due to his direct support and leadership, they went from not knowing what caused this disease in terms of what genes to more than eighteen different genes have been identified," Hays said.

Dave Frohnmayer was diagnosed with prostate cancer more than five years ago, around the time he stepped down as UO President. He was 74 at his death. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. March 21 at the UO's Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene.

Copyright 2015 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Amanda Peacher