Board honors the remarkable life and legacy of Opal Strong

August 30, 2018

Opal Strong's family members joined Commissioners who proclaimed a day in her honor.

Opal Strong rubbed shoulders with U.S. Senators, governors and luminaries like Eartha Kitt. But it was her tireless work for those with no money, no home and no hope that led County Commissioners to proclaim Aug. 23, 2018 in her honor.

The Portland matriarch, who died Aug. 9 at age 102, was a neighborhood activist who worked to preserve the African American heart of Albina, improve public transit and protect seniors. She had a statewide reach, serving on gubernatorial boards and councils.

And she was a popular Portland restaurant operator and entrepreneur, selling antiques and Avon products and baking famous pineapple and sweet potato pies.

Commissioner Loretta Smith

“I am so honored to bring her story to my colleagues and the broader community that we serve,’’ said Commissioner Loretta Smith, who brought forward the proclamation.

The “multi-dimensional’’ Strong passed on her gifts to 53 descendants including “multiple lawyers, MBAs, doctorates and outstanding pastors and a host of professionals,’’ her son Jackie said.

“You often hear the quote “you never miss your water until the well runs dry. Well, with her offspring, we’re going to continue to spread her water.Her well will flow forever,’’Jackie Strong said.

As a slideshow of Opal Strong’s life played in the County Boardroom, Commissioners heard how she had been born in 1916 to a couple from Okmulgee, Okla. and moved to Portland when her husband, Luther went to work in the Kaiser shipyards in 1943. The couple raised their five children here, and Strong launched her career as a civil rights and community activist.

She was also active in the church throughout her life, sharing food and hospitality. An annual Thanksgiving family tradition was to distribute 200 sandwiches to the people living under the Portland bridges. Her job, even at 101, was to give out $5 with each of those lunches.

“My grandmother gave it all,’’ said Pastor Mark Strong. “She gave all her heart, her mind, and all her strength. What comprised her, she willingly and freely gave to the city of Portland. I want to thank you for honoring her efforts.”

Opal Strong's family react emotionally to the tribute to their mother and grandmother.

Commissioners thanked the family for their mother’s efforts and Commissioner Smith for bringing Mrs. Strong’s story forward.

“The work we do today on issues of social justice, homelessness, we are standing on the shoulders of giants and your mother was one of those giants and we need to be humble about how much we owe to the people who came before us in Portland,’’ said Commissioner Jessica Vega Pederson.

Commissioner Lori Stegmann said, at a time when there is so much negativity in our country, it was important to remember “there is so much goodness and greatness in our community.’’

“Opal Strong’s legacy and commitment to civil rights, community service and mentorship has made Multnomah County a stronger, more fair and more inclusive county for all its citizens,’’ Commissioner Smith said, reading the proclamation.

And with that the Board voted to proclaim Aug. 23, 3018 as Opal Strong Day in Multnomah  County, Oregon.