Don Willner, 1926-2012

Don Willner, a Portland attorney who represented labor unions and who compiled an exemplary pro-worker voting record as a member of the Oregon Legislature, died at his home in Trout Lake, Washington, March 27. He was 85.

Don Willner

Willner represented Multnomah Typographical Union No. 58, Mailers Local 13 and Portland Newspaper Guild Local 165 during the Oregonian strike of Nov. 10, 1959 to April 4, 1965. He was the attorney for the strike-born Portland Reporter, which started in February 1960.

Willner also was an attorney for the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers during its formation in 1964.  The Portland-based AWPPW was founded as a 21,000-member independent union of West Coast papermill workers who decertified from their AFL-CIO-affiliated unions. The AWPPW is now part of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters.

Willner worked with Cesar Chavez, the late president of United Farm Workers, and served as lawyer for Colegio Cesar Chavez in Mt. Angel, Oregon, one of the first Latino colleges.

Willner continued practicing law into his 80s.

Don Shelley Willner was born May 22, 1926, in New York City and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1951 after serving in the Maritime Service and U.S. Army.

Willner briefly practiced law in Washington, D.C. He moved to Portland in 1952 to open a law firm that focused on labor, civil rights, and environmental issues.

He was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 1956 and served as state senator for 10 years, beginning in 1963. In the 1970s he sought the Democratic nomination for U.S senator and Oregon attorney general.

Willner was named to the Northwest Oregon Labor Council Retirees Association’s “Labor Hall of Fame” in December 2007 and was awarded the Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s “Person of the Year” in 2010.
He is survived by his wife, Marjorie Burns; four daughters; three stepsons; a stepdaughter; nine grandchildren; and his first wife, Patience Willner.

A memorial service will be held at Congregation Neveh Shalom, Stamp-fer Chapel, 1 p.m., April 22. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Institute for Judaic Studies, Jewish Voice for Peace, or the Trout Lake Community Foundation.

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