Oregon State Bar Bulletin — APRIL 2002

Profiles in the Law
Oregon's Man of the Book
By Cliff Collins

It was when Brian Booth, raised in a household filled with books but with no TV, came to Portland to practice law that he discovered Oregon literature.

Booth gravitated to Puddletown's used bookstores, where he began collecting books about Oregon history. Then he found H.L. Davis' Honey in the Horn, published in 1935 and winner of the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. That book opened his eyes.

'I thought it was a remarkable book,' says Booth, a longtime Portland lawyer with Tonkon Torp. 'I was amazed that I could grow up in Oregon and never hear of that book or of Davis.' Booth started studying Davis and other Oregon authors, and began what now has become his extensive collection of Oregon literature from 1859 to today.

That earlier recognition that the state's literature and writers had been neglected led later to his founding of the Oregon Institute of Literary Arts (OILA). Having served as president of the Portland Art Museum and helping it grow and achieve funding, Booth considered it 'incongruous' that the Oregon Arts Commission paid so little attention to Oregon writers and the literary arts. So in 1986, Booth started a fundraising campaign to support writing in Oregon.

What became the OILA (today part of Literary Arts Inc.) holds the annual Oregon Books Awards to honor the best in Oregon writing and makes grants to writers and publishers. The organization has handed out around half a million dollars and benefited hundreds of writers and publishers. OILA also spurred interest in bringing back out-of-print works and publishing new anthologies of Oregon's literary heritage.

Booth wanted more emphasis placed on prominent early Oregon authors such as Davis, Hazel Hall, Stewart Holbrook, Frances Fuller Victor, C.E.S. Wood, John Reed and other cultural figures. For about a decade now, an entirely volunteer group, the Oregon Cultural Heritage Commission (which Booth co-founded), has published a newsletter, put on programs and installed plaques, such as one last year in Portland's Washington Park honoring Reed. In 1992, Booth edited Wildmen, Wobblies & Whistle Punks: Stewart Holbrook's Lowbrow Northwest, which has now gone through six printings.

Booth's leadership abilities and interests in writing surfaced early. University of Oregon Phi Beta Kappa graduate Booth had considered journalism for a career. During several high school and college summers, he worked for the Roseburg newspaper and he wrote a satirical column, 'The Skeptic Tank,' for the U.O. student paper. After serving in the U.S. Army, he won a scholarship to Stanford Law School, where he was an editor of Stanford Law Review.

Booth's interest in the law stemmed from several influences: His uncle, Paul Geddes, was a prominent Roseburg lawyer, legislator and president of the Oregon State Bar; Booth thrived in a U.O. course on constitutional issues; and Booth's study of Northwest native and Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas inspired him.

Booth knew Ken Kesey at U.O., and when Booth was at Stanford, Kesey was in the school's writing program. During his first year in law school, Booth bumped into Kesey, who was decked out in all-white clothes and shoes. Turned out, the author-to-be was working in the psychiatric ward that provided the inspiration and material for One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. When Booth was looking for a summer job after his first year of law school, Kesey suggested that he join him in the paid experimental program with hallucinatory drugs at the Menlo Park V.A. Hospital. Instead, Booth took a job with a professor to revise the California Water Code. Booth and Kesey later joked that if Booth had followed Kesey, the California Water Code might have been a best seller in the 1960s along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.

Booth's diverse interests have led him to serve on a broad range of boards and committees, varying from chairing the Oregon Health Sciences Foundation to being a board member of Planned Parenthood. He spent about a decade working to improve state parks, serving as chairman of the Oregon Parks Commission and pushing Measure 66, a successful initiative that stabilized funding for parks and beaches, which he refers to as 'the soul of Oregon.' He says lawyers make valuable board members, because legal skills are helpful in starting or turning around organizations, helping them establish priorities, and assisting in financing and marketing plans.

Booth was one of the founders of Tonkon Torp, and considers that and seeing the firm grow and prosper his most satisfying achievement to date. He specializes in corporate law. He represented Nike Inc. in its public offering, and Tonkon Torp has served the company for more than two decades.
'One of the purposes of life is to create something, and leave the world with something you helped to create,' reflects Booth, who said the phrase 'I'm going to a meeting' was often uttered in a household growing up with active parents. The late Oregon historian Terence O'Donnell called Booth 'Oregon's pre-eminent man of the book.' Lawyers who want a list of his favorite Oregon-authored books can contact Booth at brianb@tonkon.com.

Cliff Collins, a Portland-area free-lance writer, is a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

© 2002 Cliff Collins

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