Our Stories

What If?

Democratic Congressman Sam Farr '63 grew up in a political family, where luminaries like Ansel Adams dropped by for coffee. He didn't know his parents' friends were famous. All he knew was that he "grew up in a living room environment of 'what-ifs.'" His biology teachers at Willamette continued the discussion, pushing him to think about ways to lessen human impacts on the earth long before "ecology" became part of the nation's vocabulary.

When Farr returned from the Peace Corps, where he lived in an impoverished barrio in Colombia, he became newly sensitized to California farm workers living in squalor. Sans law degree, the biology graduate entered politics, hoping to create laws that would lead to a sustainable society.

And a sustainable environment. Farr has been named one of the country's foremost champions of the environment by the Wilderness Society, the League of Conservation Voters, the Sierra Club and California State Parks for his landmark legislation to protect California wilderness, offshore islands and green space. In an era when scientists are predicting the coming collapse of the ocean's ecosystems, Farr collaborated with another Willamette alumnus, Democratic Congressman Jay Inslee, JD'76 of Washington State, to draft the Oceans-21 Bill, pivotal legislation that protects the fisheries that sustain civilization.

"I still go back to my biology training at Willamette," Farr says. "Most people look at the ocean as one-dimensional. They don't see what's underneath." The congressman has made a career of seeing what's underneath, and acting -- protecting society's most vulnerable, preserving California's last untrammeled places, and protecting the planet's shared waters, answering his own what-ifs.