Eastern Oregon activist
Tall and regal with deep blue eyes and abundant silver hair, Laura Pryor is a commanding presence used to commanding jobs. For almost two decades she was the elected judge for Gilliam County, spending those years and many more fighting and working for Eastern Oregon.
On this day several months after her retirement as the top county administrator, she sits in a Salem restaurant, having just found out the Office of Rural Policy, which she helped birth three years ago, is once again threatened. Pryor is deeply stung by this, doubly so because it comes at a time when rural counties are struggling with the impact of losing millions of dollars in federal timber payments.
“No one starts out to say, ‘Let’s murder rural Oregon,’” she says, looking long and hard out the window at the torrential rain, “It’s just unintended consequences.”
But this is a woman who doesn’t lose hope, so there’s no looking back, only turning to face new challenges. Pryor is helping set up a study with Oregon State University that will chart the impact of the timber-money loss, continuing to prod and nurture the Eastern Oregon Rural Alliance, and keeping her presence felt in Salem as she battles for her beloved eastern home. Even though she feels as if she’s starting from scratch again, she’s not willing to concede the fight.
If this doesn’t sound like retirement, then you’ve got it right. The 69-year-old Pryor laughs and says she retired from the county, but not from life.
“The urban-rural divide is real,” she says, and it’s her mission to try to bridge that. “How do we keep rural society alive and vital? I’m going to try to figure out how to do that.”
There are more meetings and many more hours to put in, so she heads out, braving the rain, face forward into the storm she sees gathering over rural Oregon.
— Robin Doussard
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