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Oregon Lawmakers, Family Gather To Celebrate The Life Of Norma Paulus

Family, friends and Oregon lawmakers gathered at Willamette University in Salem on Saturday for Norma Paulus’ memorial service.

Paulus was Oregon’s first female secretary of state. She died Feb. 28 at the age of 85 in a Portland care facility.

Paulus was known for her politics as a moderate Republican. She worked on Oregon land-use laws and, as secretary of state, pioneered the state’s vote-by-mail system.

Oregon Sen. Betsy Johnson, D-Scappoose, was one of the speakers at her memorial service. Johnson’s father, Sam Johnson, served with Paulus in the Oregon House.

“We desperately need more Normas in the Legislature, and I don’t mean more women," Betsy Johnson said. "I mean more pragmatic moderates."

Paulus was well-known for being a feminist — especially as it relates to Oregon politics during the 1970s. She was co-founder of the Oregon Women’s Political Caucus in 1972.

“Norma smashed through glass ceilings before people knew what glass ceilings were,” Johnson said.

“Her mentoring of the many women who worked for her and of other women making strides in professions dominated by men is legendary,” said Paulus’s son, Fritz. “She never forgot that lending a hand or being lent a hand, that giving someone an opportunity, could change one’s life.”

Roger Martin served with Paulus almost 50 years ago in the House.

“When Norma was first elected to the Legislature in 1970, she arrived at a Legislature that had in its membership five women in the House and two in the Senate,” Martin said. “Norma went on to lead a career that developed a totally new culture that resulted in today where we have almost half the Oregon House of Representatives are women.”  

Phil Keisling, who was Oregon secretary of state from 1991 to 1999, also spoke at the memorial. He said Paulus’s legacy should continue to inspire Oregon.

“Oregon going forward, needs more than ever, and will be able to address, these many challenges ahead by embracing that spirit of Norma Paulus — of independence, of strength, of speaking truth to power, of doing what’s right even when it hurts,” Keisling said.

Fritz Paulus pays tribute to his mother, the late Oregon lawmaker and secretary of state Norma Paulus, at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Saturday, April 27, 2019. Norma Paulus was a pioneering Oregon Republican and champion of vote-by-mail. She died in February 2019.
Bradley W. Parks /
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Fritz Paulus pays tribute to his mother, the late Oregon lawmaker and secretary of state Norma Paulus, at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Saturday, April 27, 2019. Norma Paulus was a pioneering Oregon Republican and champion of vote-by-mail. She died in February 2019.

Liz Paulus, left, hugs a family member at a memorial for Paulus' mother, the late Oregon lawmaker and secretary of state Norma Paulus, at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Saturday, April 27, 2019.
Bradley W. Parks /
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Liz Paulus, left, hugs a family member at a memorial for Paulus' mother, the late Oregon lawmaker and secretary of state Norma Paulus, at Willamette University in Salem, Ore., Saturday, April 27, 2019.

Copyright 2019 Oregon Public Broadcasting

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Meerah Powell is a general assignment and breaking news reporter for OPB. She previously worked as a news reporter and podcast producer for Eugene Weekly in her hometown of Eugene, Oregon. Along with writing and audio work, Meerah also has experience with photography and videography. She graduated from the University of Oregon's School of Journalism and Communication.