Oregon State Bar Bulletin — MAY 2007
Profiles in the Law
Mission to Mississippi:
Don and Susan Marmaduke Share Commitment to Service

By Melody Finnemore

Don and Susan Marmaduke.

When a call for help rang out from America’s south, Don and Susan Marmaduke answered without hesitation. Though four decades and very different circumstances separated their public service, the father and daughter encountered similar eye-opening experiences they will never forget.

The Marmadukes, both Portland attorneys, share a commitment to public service. Don, a partner at Tonkon Torp LLP, became a lawyer at the urging of his grandfather, William Thomas Hall. Hall, a railway mail clerk, raised Don and often took his grandson downtown on the streetcar to watch attorneys argue their cases in court and to meet the judges and bailiffs.

"He always admired lawyers and thought being a lawyer was the best thing people could be. My grandpa was a person I was very close to and he thought I should be a lawyer, so that’s what I became," Don says.

Don was born in Portland. He attended Jefferson High School during World War II. He was shaped in part by seeing his Japanese-American friends experience the injustices of internment.

Through an accelerated war-time program at Yale University, which eliminated vacations, Don earned an engineering degree in just two and a half years from Yale. When he graduated in 1946, the 19-year-old was commissioned by the U.S. Navy and worked as an engineer for a couple of years before earning his law degree from Harvard Law School in 1951. After clerking for a federal judge in Boston, Don returned to Portland the following year. He was practicing at what is now Stoel Rives in 1965 when he learned of the opportunity to help civil rights activists in Mississippi.

"What I felt was the most rewarding experience was the opportunity to try a case to desegregate the Nashoba County Courthouse in Philadelphia, Mississippi," he says, adding that the effort allowed black residents to register to vote in the courthouse. "We were successful and it meant a lot to the people symbolically to win that case."

During those five weeks in November and December 1965, Don remembers being followed by members of the Ku Klux Klan as he interviewed people for the case. Despite the intimidation tactics, Don says he didn’t feel threatened. "I wasn’t scared because I felt an Oregon lawyer would be immune from violence," he says.

His daughter felt otherwise. Susan, 13 at the time, remembers television news reports about the violence that threatened civil rights activists in Mississippi. "He minimizes the danger, but civil rights workers were being murdered, so I remember it being very scary at the time," she says.

Susan’s awareness of the disparity among races grew when she transferred from Lake Oswego High School to Portland’s Jefferson High School for her senior year. At the time, Jefferson suffered from poor morale and racial tensions.

"It had been very much a part of the family experience — sensitivity to the role of race in the U.S., not only in the south but in our community, too," she says. "At that point, I really felt there was going to be a revolution. I really felt we were on the brink of cataclysmic change in this country. The Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and issues of poverty in America all converged to create tumultuous times."

Susan’s involvement in protesting the Vietnam War, as well as her parents’ activism, inspired her to become an attorney. She went to law school because she thought it was the best way to make a difference.

While earning an undergraduate degree in arts and letters and a minor in economics from Portland State University, Susan became interested in Middle Eastern cultures. She received an Arabic Language Certificate at the Bourguiba Institute of Modern Languages in Tunis, Tunisia, graduated from U.C. Berkeley’s law school in 1977, and passed the California bar exam. Susan then married and moved to Yemen, where she served as an associate country director for the Peace Corps.

"The Peace Corps was really great because there was a lot of economic development involved," she says, adding the Peace Corps also helped immunize children from measles and drill wells for clean water. "It was exciting to be in Yemen because there was so much to do."

Yemen was involved in a civil war at the time, but Susan didn’t feel she was in danger. Her father felt otherwise. The phone lines were rudimentary and her family often was unable to reach her.

Susan returned to America in 1982 to give birth to her son, Ali. She took the Oregon bar exam before moving back to Yemen to work as a contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development. In 1984, she returned to Oregon to practice law.

The same desire to help that fueled Susan in Yemen gained momentum as she watched Hurricane Katrina head toward the Gulf Coast in 2005. "I stayed up all night and watched as the hurricane hit landfall. Like so many others, I
really wanted to do something to help," she says.

Susan, who had joined Harrang Long Gary Rudnick in 2001, decided she should put her legal skills on hold in favor of taking her Peace Corps skills to Mississippi. However, she learned the Mississippi Justice Project — the same committee her father had been involved with four decades earlier — needed lawyers to help with housing, insurance and poverty issues.

The Mississippi Supreme Court quickly admitted lawyers from other states, allowing them to represent local residents. When Susan first arrived at the state bar’s office in Jackson that November, she found a landscape that had been decimated and two women "frantically trying to orchestrate the legal side of the relief effort for the entire state."

They gave her a booklet that contained information on Mississippi’s landlord/tenant laws and insurance claims process, as well as a list of social service agencies. From a disaster recovery center housed in a tent, Susan and other volunteer lawyers from around the country attempted to handle some of the claims that overwhelmed the system. Power outages and crowded conditions forced Susan to hold consultations in her rental car, and she did legal research with the help of Portland colleague Bob Steringer via her Blackberry device.

Among the many problems facing local residents, there were timelines for insurance claims but no contractors available to provide estimates. Mississippi’s insurance commissioner and attorney general graciously helped Susan address such issues.

"People were so nice. There was an amazing esprit de corps. Everybody was just doing the best they could in chaotic circumstances," she says.

During her two weeks at the Gulf Coast, Susan worked in five different recovery areas. Nearly 40 years to the day since her father had been there, Susan met a woman who remembered Don and showed Susan where he worked while he was there.

"My experience was quite different from Dad’s. Race wasn’t an issue and even economic disparities weren’t really an issue — because everyone had lost everything" she says.

One thing the Marmadukes shared, though, was the personal obligation to take action.

"It’s a great privilege to be a lawyer and have the chance to do things that make a difference," Susan says. "My dad has always made me feel that an opportunity to make a difference is what it’s all about."

Melody Finnemore is a Portland-area freelance writer and a frequent contributor to the Bulletin.

© 2007 Melody Finnemore

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