A celebration of Life for Doug Babb will be held Sunday, February 19 from 2:30-5:30 pm at Dig a Pony at 736 SE Grand Avenue in Portland. Informal. Pendleton or Hawaiian shirts a plus! No business wear. A wee bit of Scotch for a special toast. Wine, beer, food and 60s/70s music. Bring your Doug stories. –Susan Terry
Doug Babb – CFM’s likable long-time gray beard, project maestro and professional conscience – died Monday after a long battle with Parkinson’s and lifelong struggle with diabetes.
Babb was one of CFM’s first employees after getting his feet wet in journalism at Portland State University, helping start Willamette Week, working for Tri-Met during the tumultuous construction of the first light rail line to Gresham, explaining why it was a good idea to export Portland trash to Eastern Oregon and handling communications for former tech giant Tektronix.
Babb first crossed paths with the two CFM co-founders, Gary Conkling and Dave Fiskum, when they all worked atThe Daily Astorian, where Babb covered fisheries and maritime commerce and whatever else crossed the newspaper’s transom. They later intersected at Tektronix. It only seemed natural Babb would join them once CFM got underway.
Along the way, Babb was part of a lot of Oregon history. We know because he wrote what amounted to his obituary. With his physical limitations, it took him six weeks to peck it out with one finger.
- As a researcher for the Oregon Student Public Interest Research Group (OSPIRG), Babb unearthed evidence the Oregon Real Estate Division was being lax in the enforcement of consumer protection safeguards on sales of recreational subdivision properties. His worked earned two front-page headlines, attracted the attention of Governor Tom McCall and spurred formation of 1000 Friends of Oregon, according to the land-use watchdog’s founder.
- Babb had one of the grimmest PR jobs as Tri-Met’s communication lead during the disruptive construction of the Eastside MAX line, which occurred before Portlanders fell in love with light rail. But Babb was pulled off that thankless assignment to handle media relations for the transit agency in tense labor negotiations. His reward was a seat on the committee that would run the transit agency in the event of a strike. A contract agreement came just an hour before the strike deadline.
- He wrote a cover story for Living titled “Bionic Man,” describing his experience as only the 14th Oregonian to become tethered to an insulin pump. He was diagnosed as a Type 1 diabetic in 1961 and the disease gradually stole his eyesight through which he saw more than most.
- Babb experienced corporate culture when, as manager of Tek’s corporate PR office, he was blindsided by a BBC reporter asking about Tek’s plans to close a manufacturing plant in Guernsey. It was an ominous beginning to a downward slide by a company that once was Oregon’s largest private employer and America’s leading patent applicant.
Babb toiled at CFM for 20 years before retiring. He specialized in reputation and issues management. He played a critical role for establishing CFM as the leading public affairs agency in the Pacific Northwest. Some of his milestone achievements:
- He launched an annual Technology Benchmarks survey and conference that put Oregon's tech industry on the political map as it overcame the timer industry as the state’s largest employer.
- Working for the late Bing Sheldon at SERA Architects, Babb helped convince Portland’s opinion leaders – and city commissioners – that renovating the century-old Portland City Hall was a smarter, more enduring option than building something new. His advocacy has proven true, especially as City leaders grapple with what to do with the badly aging, much younger Portland Building.
- Babb led two national award-winning campaigns in Oregon to encourage a higher tobacco tax and discourage smoking by youngsters.
- Before they were commonplace, Babb pitched clients on building websites and telling stories using visual tools.
On one of his last big projects, Babb worked with the National Park Service on web-centers communications to raise $3 million in cash and in-kind contributions to fulfill a 50-year promise to build a trail from the replica of Fort Clatsop near Astoria to the sea. He provided crisis media training to Park rangers, which became prescient when a fire destroyed Fort Clatsop just as the new trail opened.
“The awards weren’t the best part of the project,” Babb wrote in his obituary. “Witnessing a client take ownership of the material, adapt it for the moment and excel in execution makes a crisis consultant a very happy camper. I came into my office and listened to the voice mail, ‘We used your plan last night. The media is all here and the governor is coming this morning.’”
Babb never felt sorry for himself and certainly never trafficked in pity. He had an eye for the unusual and a kind word for someone else facing adversity. Some of the 10 facts he chose to remember about himself:
- “He once strolled down Portland’s Transit Mall wearing a gorilla suit and a top hat.”
- He had 4,000 laser welds in each eye to stop bleeding.
- He served as an officer on three community mental health boards.
- He wasn’t able to drive his own car after age 31 – and he loved Triumph sports cars.
- He was trained as a light rail operator – just in case.
He is survived by his wife, Susan. This blog will be updated with information about his memorial.