FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 7, 2010
Oregon State Treasurer Ben Westlund
dies of cancer
Entrepreneur and political veteran leaves a legacy of public service
to Oregon families
SALEM -- In life, there are those who take the road less
followed. Oregon State Treasurer Ben Westlund’s was miles past where the
His path took him from Apple Valley, Calif; to the shores of Lake
Oswego; to the painted hills of Eastern Oregon; to rural Deschutes
County; and then to the statehouse, where he served as a legislator and
In Central Oregon and then the Capitol, where Westlund spent much of the
past 13 years since being first elected in 1996, he was known for his
easygoing wit and his signature sign off: “Down the trail.”
Westlund’s journey ended too soon. He died early Sunday in Bend, when he
lost his battle to cancer. He was 60.
The son of Long Beach oilman Bernard "Bud", and Dorothy Reynolds
Westlund, was born Sept. 3, 1949, Spent first 16 years in Apple Valley,
California where his father had a successful real estate development.
Then his family returned to the Northwest with his two brothers. He
graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., where he earned a
degree in education and history.
He helped start a successful mining venture in Christmas Valley, and
then a marketing company in Portland. In the 1980s he started ranching
in Eastern Oregon and named his operation High Country Herefords, and a
cattle genetics operation in Oklahoma called Taurus. His best-known and
most economically successful prize-winning Hereford bull was named
Westlund married his wife, Libby Bishop, a high school classmate and
friend, in 1987. After selling his registered Hereford herd in 1990 they
settled on the Deschutes River in Tumalo, outside of Bend. They have two
children; BJ, 21, and Taylor, 17. Ben dutifully called home every night
at 8 p.m. during his years at the Capitol to say good night to his
A lifetime fan of baseball, specifically the Los Angeles Dodgers,
Westlund also was part-owner in the 1990s of a minor league baseball
team, the Bend Bandits. While it was fun to own a team, Ben recounted
that the best part of the experience was traveling the state with his
kids, watching their team play.
A friend convinced him to run for the legislature in 1996 and Westlund
was elected to the Oregon Legislature House of Representatives. In 2003,
he was appointed to the Senate and successfully won the seat in 2004. He
quickly earned a reputation as a problem solver and as an advocate for
In his 12 years in the state Legislature, he was a co-chairman of the
budget-drafting Joint Ways and Means Committee and championed
legislation that created the State’s Rainy Day Fund, Public Safety
Memorial Fund and the Oregon Cultural Trust. He was the chief
legislative advocate for creating the Cascades Campus of Oregon State
University in Central Oregon.
He survived an initial bout with lung cancer in 2003. A political
moderate who started his career as a Republican, Westlund bucked his
party and was the cosponsor of legislation to give marriage-like rights
to same-sex couples. He staged a brief campaign for governor as an
independent in 2006.
He fought for consumer protection and was the co-author of Oregon’s
health system reforms in 2007, and was elected as Oregon’s 27th State
Treasurer in 2008. He is the only state treasurer to be elected from
east of the Cascades in recent memory.
As Treasurer, he gained national attention for his initiative to expand
investment transparency and led a series of reforms to increase
accountability and options in the Oregon 529 College Savings Plan. He
was instrumental in securing a $20 million settlement in 2009 for
families who are saving for their children’s futures.
He worked to the end and was he was a hands-on, creative and
collaborative leader who sought to bring out the best in his staff. In
the final quarter of 2009, the returns earned by the State Treasury
investment division were in the top 1 percent of large public funds.
In his speeches, he frequently joked that while folks can learn lifelong
lessons in kindergarten, you can learn a lot about being Treasurer from
ranching. For instance, watch out for predators, sunshine is the best
disinfectant, and watch where you step.
Westlund’s legacy will live on in Oregon, in the form of the cultural
trust and public safety fund, which provides money to families of
officers killed or injured in the line of duty. His legacy also will
live on in the memories of friends and Oregonians whose lives he
touched, and those who spoke with him, or were fortunate enough to meet
him in his travels down almost every road – paved or not -- across the
state he loved.
Down the trail, Ben.
Down the trail.
This statement was approved by the Westlund family.