Ralph Temple was powerful advocate for civil rights

ASHLAND — Known as a tireless champion of civil liberties — including local cases involving homelessness, Tasering, nudity, panhandling and the right of assembly — Ashland lawyer Ralph Temple died at his home here Saturday. He was 78.

An Army veteran and graduate of Harvard Law School, Temple served as legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington, D.C., working closely with Martin Luther King Jr., Bella Abzug and other luminaries of civil rights before his retirement here in 1996.

"He was one of the finest and most creative critical thinkers I ever met," said Ashland City Councilwoman Carol Voisin. "He was compassionate and always had a smile for you, even if he disagreed with you. He was kind, generous and brilliant, a rarity today."

Allen Hallmark of Medford Citizens for Peace and Justice, who worked with Temple on jail conditions and the right to demonstrate in city parks, said, "He was a stalwart for civil liberties ... really one of the wise elders in our community. He did so much good."

Temple opposed "very restrictive" application of ordinances that resulted in high fees and insurance requirements for demonstrations in Medford parks, said Hallmark.

Medford attorney Bill Mansfield, who worked with Temple on the issue, called him "a very intelligent and hard-working fellow who believed strongly in what he was doing."

As a young boy in 1941, Temple, a Jew, fled the Nazi invasion with his mother, while his father served in the British Army. He graduated from Miami Beach High School in 1951. In addition to his Jewish faith, Temple was a devotee of the Self-Realization Fellowship of Paramahansa Yogananda and meditated daily.

"He was a really good friend to everyone who cares about justice and civil liberties," said Rich Rohde of Oregon Action in Medford. "He worked for the underdog and gave us tools through his legal work to protect the rights of democratic participation in our community."

Temple was "instrumental in negotiating a fair deal with respect to the rights of group assembly and demonstration without undue obstacles, making sure our ordinances are compatible with the Constitution," said Rohde.

When it came to the often unpopular issues surrounding the rights of the homeless, as well as nudity and police use of tasers, Temple fought on the side of the less powerful. He sought the rollback in 2008 of an old Ashland ordinance banning organists, mendicants and fakirs in city parks, a law Temple said violated the constitutional guarantees of free speech and could be used against the homeless.

Longtime friend Paul Richards of Ashland said Temple represented baby doctor/war protester Benjamin Spock and folk singer Joan Baez — and worked the case that allowed women to be FBI agents.

"He was a person who engaged in finding common ground and would not hold grudges, even against those who attacked him," said Richards. "He extended the hand of friendship. He was a very powerful advocate with a soft, compassionate heart."

Ann Macrory, a lawyer and Temple's wife of 30 years, said he didn't hesitate to get out of his car and attempt to help both sides when he saw a police dispute going on in the streets of Washington, D.C.

"He was fearless about going after people when someone was being beat up or having their rights violated," she said. "Where most of us don't want to meddle, he'd help people work things out."

Even though he fled Nazi aggression, Temple joined in defending the American Nazi Party's right in 1977 to parade in uniform through Skokie, Ill., said Macrory, and he calmly explained the constitutional issues to "outraged" Jews of the town.

Ruth Coulthard of Peace House said she saw Temple speak for the homeless a few months ago, and "he was so powerful, so gifted — on a whole other level."

"He was a cantankerous cuss whom I admired very much," said Wes Brain, a community organizer with Southern Oregon Jobs for Justice. "He helped us stand up for First Amendment rights of free speech in many ACLU cases."

Former Ashland Municipal Judge Allen Drescher called Temple "an ardent advocate of civil liberties who devoted his life to that cause."

Voisin added that Temple "always clearly spoke for the civil rights of any individual, poor or rich; that's where his integrity was and he would die for it."

Temple is survived by his wife, his children, Johnny and Kathy; Johnny's wife, Kara; four stepchildren, Lucinda, Cecily, Maude and Ben and their husbands/partners; two grandchildren; and six step-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, Charles Temple and Sadie Levy Temple.

Temple died of complications of heart disease, said his wife, and was buried Tuesday in a private ceremony at Scenic Hills Memorial Park, Ashland.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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