Don Laws is shown at an Ashland City Council meeting in July 2004. [Photo by John Darling]

Former Ashland councilor Don Laws dies

Longtime Ashland city councilor and Southern Oregon University political science professor Don Laws is being remembered as a wise, quiet and friendly man who carried out his work with skill and dignity. He died Nov. 2 at age 81.

His widow, Sharon Laws, former manager of the Ashland Senior Center for many years, cited his informed candor, quiet nature and “absolute love” of family, including children Tim and Natalie and grandchildren.

“He definitely was such a good person, so honest. He did not hold grudges,” she said. “When he disagreed with someone, he told them he disagreed but never held their opinion against them. He wanted to hear everyone’s point of view, though he may not change his mind. In a political world, he was only very honest, sometimes too honest for a lot of people's taste.”

Former Mayor Cathy Shaw recalled Laws' focus and industry on the council, noting, “He was a perfect city councilor for decades. At one point I recall him saying he remembers being the most liberal person, but (as the council moved to the left) 'now I’m not.'

“He was very careful, attentive to detail, very pleasant to work with. Back then we all had a lot of homework and did it — and Don was no exception. As a professor, he was no stranger to homework.”

Laws, a 1953 graduate of Ashland High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Willamette University, master’s from UCLA and Ph.D. from University of Oregon. He taught at SOU from 1968 to 2002. He served on the council from 1973 to 2007, except for a two-year gap, when he ran unsuccessfully for mayor against Shaw.

In a 2008 Tidings story about him being grand marshal of the Fourth of July parade, Laws said his main achievements on the council were writing a new comprehensive plan and creating a system for beautification of the downtown, including the controversial sign ordinance that got rid of neon signs.

“I feel I did my very best to help the city, and I’m still very interested in what’s going on,” Laws said at the time.

“Don was a model for how to apply one's life to service in community,” noted Gary Schrodt of Ashland. “He was always deeply thoughtful in the decisions he made on behalf of all of us and never self-serving in his motives. I mourn his death and honor his legacy.”

William C. Eckart said, “Vaughn Bornet hired him originally and was very pleased he did so. I took several classes from Don, always learned new things.”

Bornet, 100, a long-ago chairman of SOU’s Social Sciences Department, said Laws considered Willamette University to be his “academic home” and studied under future Sen. Mark Hatfield, so Bornet thought he was a Republican and hired him to balance the strongly Democratic faculty.

“I turned out to be mistaken. I fooled myself,” said Bornet. “He served well on the council and was a good faculty member, very quiet. He was by nature conservative without being a Republican.”

A memorial, to be announced, will be held in February around the time of his birthday.

— John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at

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