Paul Richard Meyer
April 12, 1925 – May 1, 2020
Paul Richard Meyer, a man who lived a life of purpose and conviction, died of cancer at home May 1. He was 95.
Born in St. Louis, Paul was the middle son of Abraham and Adele (Rosenfeld) Meyer. He credited his life-long commitment to civil rights to the family’s participation in the Ethical Culture Society and his mother’s extensive social activism. When he was 15 the family moved to New York City where he graduated from the Ethical Culture Fieldston School.
Paul was drafted at 18 and served as an infantry machine gunner in the 70th Oregon Trailblazers Division. Wounded in “The Second Battle of the Bulge” in Alsace Lorraine in January 1945, he was awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his service. After the war and graduations from Columbia College and Yale Law School, he came west to teach at UC Berkeley School of Law before settling permanently in Portland, in 1953.
He practiced law in Portland for more than 50 years, starting as an associate of King Miller. In 1960 he joined Norm Kobin forming Kobin & Meyer, the first Oregon firm to specialize in construction law. Paul often took on complex disputes that other lawyers turned away, and successfully argued hundreds of cases before state and federal trial and appellate courts. In the 1990s he practiced in partnership with his son, David, and was of counsel to his brother Roger’s firm, Meyer & Wyse. After retirement Paul served well into his nineties as a mediator and arbitrator.
While law was his vocation, civil liberties was his passion. As a first-year law student Paul founded the New Haven Civil Liberties Council, precursor to ACLU’s Connecticut affiliate. In 1955, ACLU founder Roger Baldwin asked Paul to select a founding board for an Oregon affiliate, on which he served more than 20 years. In the 1960s he was a pioneer in successfully challenging Oregon’s obscenity laws and in bringing a civil rights action on behalf of 26 longshoremen to desegregate Portland’s longshore union. He was a cooperating attorney in over sixty pro-bono ACLU cases involving freedom of speech, separation of church and state, due process and equal protection. Paul served on the National Board of ACLU for 25 years, 18 of them on its Executive Committee.
He was deeply rooted in the Portland community and provided pro-bono legal support and board service to countless civic, Jewish and music organizations. Music was his joy, both as an enthusiastic participant in organized choirs and a loyal concert subscriber. Rarely in 90 years did he miss a Saturday Metropolitan Opera broadcast. And as a proud member of Portland’s City Club, for nearly 70 years, he led many significant studies including one about which he remained steadfast to the end: Portland’s continuing need for a strong mayor form of government.
Paul was an inveterate storyteller whose intelligence, humor and generosity of spirit were matched with a phenomenal memory. His joy in family and friends was memorialized in home movies, slides and thousands of photographs. He cherished beach time at Manzanita, sharing with granddaughters his secret techniques for the perfectly roasted marshmallow and for launching an oversized kite in a blustery wind.
He loved to travel, which he did with the children, taking each separately to some part of our country with special meaning to them – or to him. He and Alice traveled a good deal of the world, using itineraries Paul created in detail before leaving home. His zest for genealogical research, and the meticulous documentation of its result, sometimes happily coincided with his love of making personal contact. By keeping the flame of family history alive he has provided multiple links to future generations.
Paul is survived by his wife of sixty-two years, Alice; his children, David, Sarah and Andrea; granddaughters, Eliana and Naomi; seven nieces and nephews; and eleven grandnieces and nephews.
A celebration of Paul’s life will be held when it is possible to gather. Remembrances may be made to the Oregon Jewish Museum & Center for Holocaust Education or the ACLU of Oregon.