One of Oregon's most redeeming qualities is this: One person can make a difference here.
In the case of Betty Roberts, that difference is huge; and when the history is written of Oregon in the second half of the 20th century, Roberts will stand out as one of our most important leaders.
Roberts' remarkable life is on full display in With Grit and By Grace: Breaking Trails in Politics and Law, A Memoir (Oregon State University Press, 288 pages, $24.95). Hers is a career filled with all manner of achievements in politics and law. Roberts led the fight for adoption of the Equal Rights Amendment and the Bottle Bill in the Oregon Senate, for example, and was the first woman to sit on both the Oregon Court of Appeals and the Oregon Supreme Court.
The greatest pleasure of Roberts' memoir, though, lies in how well, with help from collaborator-editor Gail Wells, she tells her story. It begins with an account of a Texas plains childhood that could cause even the most hardened heart to ache. That Roberts got from that life to the one she experienced in Oregon is drama enough. That she can recount it without a hint of self-pity or self-satisfaction, but with candor and directness—and a true sense of life's ironies—is a real achievement.
Few public figures' accounts of their lives are particularly honest, compelling or worthwhile. Roberts' memoir is all of these—and more. "In today's world," she writes, "every woman should be able to explore her own life, discover her own uniqueness, break her own trails, and pioneer her own destiny." Betty Roberts has walked that talk. More important, she's spent a fascinating and important career in public life working to make that promise a reality for all women in Oregon, benefiting most of the rest of us along the way.
Betty Roberts reads from her memoir at the Oregon Historical Society, 1200 SW Park Ave., 306-5198. 5 pm Friday, June 13. Free.