The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Darlene Hooley Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Janice Dilg.

February 3, 2014


Darlene Kay Olson was born in Willston, North Dakota in 1939, the daughter of two homesteaders. In 1947 her family relocated to Salem, Oregon to be nearer to relatives. During her high school years, Darlene attended Salem Academy, working part time in a cannery to help pay her tuition. After spending her first two college years at Pasadena Nazarene College in southern California, Olson transferred to Oregon State College in 1959 to pursue a bachelor of science degree in Physical Education. During her time in Corvallis, Olson participated in the school choir and was a member of the women's field hockey team.

Olson graduated from Oregon State in 1961 and launched into a fourteen-year career teaching at high schools in Woodburn, Gervais and Portland, Oregon. In 1965 she married a fellow teacher, John Hooley, and later gave birth to two children.

A playground accident suffered by one of Hooley's children led to her making a radical career change. Disappointed by what she viewed as an inadequate response to her son's injury by the local Parks and Recreation department, Hooley decided to enter the political arena, first as campaign manager for a local mayoral candidate and later as a member of the West Linn, Oregon city council. In 1980 Hooley was elected as a Democrat to the Oregon state legislature, where she served for six years. Following that, Hooley became Clackamas County's first female commissioner, serving on its board from 1987-1996.

In 1996 Hooley ran against Republican incumbent Jim Bunn in the race for the U.S. House of Representatives seat for Oregon's 5th district. She won by a narrow margin and began a career in Washington, D.C. that would last until her retirement from Congress in 2008. Two years into her service, Hooley's party elected her as Whip at Large, and in 2003 she was named Senior Whip. The vice chair of the House Veterans' Affairs Committee, Hooley was actively involved in numerous issues related to the military, and made a trip to Iraq in 2003 to observe conditions faced by U.S. troops engaged in the war effort. Hooley also worked on issues of medical and financial privacy, among other legislative interests.

In 2008 Hooley announced that she would not run for a seventh term in office. Two years later she founded the lobbying and consulting firm, Hooley & Naito, LLC, which she continues to lead.