There is a book that those who follow Idaho history and politics must read if they want to garner more insight into people who have helped shape what the great state is today. Entitled Climb the Mountains, it is the memoir of one of Idaho’s fine public servants, former Second District Congressman Orval Hansen.
Now 90 years young, he has written a fascinating account of his remarkable life that provides not only insight into some the historic issues he had a hand in shaping while a member of the Idaho Legislature from Idaho Falls and then Congress, but also demonstrates there are still decent dedicated public servants who can and do render real service to their constituents.
There are nuggets of gold and pearls of political wisdom throughout the book. For example, the young Hansen already having been defeated in 1962 by Democrat Ralph Harding from Blackfoot in a bid to win the Congressional seat, expresses ambivalence about seeking the seat in 1968 when incumbent George Hansen (no relation) leaves the post to challenge Frank Church for his Senate seat.
Orval receives encouragement, but also some unsolicited advice, the best of which comes from a Democratic friend, former State Auditor Cal Wright, who had run with out success for governor in 1950 against one of Hansen’s political idols, former Governor Len B. Jordan.
Wright wrote, “You got where you are by being who you are. Don’t change.” No truer words have ever been written. This memoir, without coming across as egotistical or narcissistic reveals well just who this quiet, understated person is. In doing so it offers a map to others who may want to pursue a career in politics.
The book’s title is taken from a favorite John Muir quote, and references what is a metaphor for Orval Hansen’s life. Turns out that the author, along with some of his brothers and some of his children, has climbed and summited mountains all over the globe, from Kilimanjaro in Africa to South America to Nepal. Indeed, it says much about his independence that he doesn’t hesitate to quote one of the saints of the American environmental movement.
The book begins with a description of a climb with two of his brothers in the Tetons. He concludes the chapter by writing, “I learned a lot about life from climbing mountains. . . .In many respects my experience climbing in the Tetons that day was a metaphor for my life.”
He distills what he has learned into six dictates:
· Set a goal
· Carefully plan
· Work hard
· Be adaptible
· Make sacrifices
· Be lucky
Much of the book shows how he applies these to his life. What really comes across to a reader, though, is what a decent, honest, modest, sensitive, kind and intelligent person he is.
This may explain in part why he appears to feel he accomplished much more as a State legislator than as a member of Congress. He is fully justified to cite as among his life’s accomplishments the establishment of the Office of Legislative Council, legislative reapportionment, reform of banking laws, and his role in 1965 as a member of the historic 38th Idaho Legislature which passed the first sales tax to pay for fully funding public education.
Among his colleagues in this endeavor were several who went onto further notable public service: Cecil D. Andrus, Jim McClure, and Perry Swisher.
He gives credit for much of his political success to three political mentors - former Governors Len B. Jordan and Robert Smylie, and Louise Shadduck, first a colleague when both worked for Henry Dworshak, and then his administrative assistant when in Congress.
Other chapters cover his Scandinavian heritage, growing up on a farm and the discipline it instilled, his involvement with the Future Farmers of America as well as Rotary International, and his two years as a Seaman Second class on the carrier Saratoga while in the Navy at the end of World War II.
He modestly cites his education at the University of Idaho, his law degree from George Washington University in D.C., his graduate work at the London School of Economics, his meeting and subsequent marriage to his British actress spouse, June, travels to other countries, running marathons in his 60’s and his love of reading and the out-of-doors.
His devotion to family and to his LDS faith come through actions, not so much in written words.
It is a good and enjoyable read that well tells the life of a remarkable Idahoan, a real life man for all seasons who is the living definition of a nice person and a superb public servant.