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Tad McCall on “Audrey McCall” Beach

October 8, 2017

Audrey McCall, the wife of Oregon Governor Tom McCall, loved to swim. Now she may be lucky enough to have a beach named after her right in Portland on the Willamette River. And knowing her, she would invite all Oregonians to share it, enjoy it and mostly, swim from it.


My mother, then Audrey Owen, grew up in Spokane, an area dotted with lovely lakes. Her parents would take their three daughters to the lakes as often as possible. Audrey grew up swimming from beaches and docks on these lakes.


After she married my dad and became Audrey McCall, she continued to swim, whether in Oregon’s lakes or lap-after-lap in neighborhood pools. She swam four strokes with grace--the crawl, backstroke, breaststroke, and sidestroke.


Mom and I were the endurance lap swimmers. My father was quite a force in the water -- wouldn’t call it grace.  Call it effectiveness.


Through all those years, my father was an advocate for the Willamette River. His 1962 television documentary, “Pollution in Paradise,” marked an awakening of the need for Oregonians to take care of their river. The promise was that if Oregonians cared for the river, the river would care for them. And the Willamette would again be able to support the many purposes a river can serve – fishing, recreational boating, and swimming among them.


More than a half century has passed since “Pollution in Paradise” kindled the commitment of many Oregonians to do a better job of protecting their river and environment. Work remains to be done, but much progress has been made. 


Both the Oregon Health Authority and the Department of Environmental Quality say the river is safe for swimming. Portland’s $1.4 billion Big Pipe protects the river from sewer overflow during winter storms. Since 1996, volunteer groups, such the Willamette Riverkeepers, have worked to improve the Willamette.


Although some Portlanders are still unsure, many are jumping in and swimming. The non-profit Human Access Project has helped make it possible. The nonprofit values the river as a natural treasure and is working with the city to create more beaches, docks and events that welcome Portlanders and others to embrace and enjoy their river.


Mayor Ted Wheeler jumped on board and he’s done more than swim, He also supports funding for the creation of new river access. This summer, Portland added summer lifeguards and buoys to mark Poet’s Beach, a stretch of sand in the shadow of the Marquam Bridge that’s the city’s first official beach.


I hope Poet’s Beach will be joined by another new beach on the east side, a refurbished area near the Hawthorne Bridge called the Eastbank Crescent. Wheeler supports beach improvements there and the Human Access Project has been working for several years to remove the large rocks along the bank.


My hope is that the crescent eventually becomes “Audrey Beach,” perfectly located across the river from Tom McCall Waterfront Park, which was named for my dad in recognition of all he did for the Willamette.


It would be fitting and romantic to join these two lovers, who both loved Oregon and the river. In her prime, mother could have easily jumped in at her beach and swam over to join dad at his park. The river wasn’t ready when she was alive. 


But the river is ready now.


Tad McCall is the sole survivor of the McCall family. He lives in Virginia where he is the program manager for the Texas A&M Institute of Renewable Natural Resources.