Robert B. Duncan

Robert Blackford Duncan (born 1920) is an American politician from the state of Oregon. A Democrat, he served multiple terms in the Oregon Legislative Assembly and as a U.S. congressman from Oregon. In the Oregon House he served as speaker for four years, and in the U.S. House he represented two different districts. The Illinois native and World War II veteran twice ran unsuccessful campaigns to be elected to the U.S. Senate.

Early life

Duncan was born in Normal, Illinois, on December 4 1920, and attended public schools in Bloomington. In 1939, he began college at the University of Alaska, staying through 1940 when he transferred to Illinois Wesleyan University where he graduated in 1942 with a bachelors degree. In college he met fellow student Marijane Beverly Dill (born June 30 1920) and the two were married on December 19 1942. The couple would have seven children together: Nancy, Angus, David, James, Laurie, Bonnie and Jeanne. While in Alaska he had worked in the gold fields, and while in Illinois he had worked for a bank and seed company.

During World War II, he served in the United States Merchant Marine and United States Naval Air Force from 1942 to 1945. In 1948, Duncan received his law degree (LL.B) from the University of Michigan and passed the bar in October of that year. After graduation Duncan and his family moved from Michigan to Portland and then to Medford in Southern Oregon, where he moved to join the law practice of William M. McAllister.

Political career

In 1954, Duncan was nominated as a write-in candidate for the Oregon House of Representatives. Although he declined for economic reasons, in 1956, he was elected to the Oregon House, serving three terms and was elected Speaker of the Oregon House by his colleagues. In 1962, he was elected to the United States House of Representatives representing Oregon's 4th congressional district based in Medford.

In 1966, he was the Democratic candidate for United States Senate for retiring Senator Maurine B. Neuberger's seat. While Duncan strongly supported President Johnson's Vietnam war policies, his Republican opponent, Mark O. Hatfield, was skeptical of the administration's conduct of the war. This factor, along with Hatfield's statewide popularity as Governor of Oregon, gave Hatfield a narrow victory. In 1967, Duncan moved to Portland where he lived until 1974, returning to the practice of law.

In 1968, Duncan challenged incumbent Senator Wayne Morse in the Democratic Senate primary. Again, Duncan's war views played a role. Though Duncan was initially far ahead of the anti-war maverick Morse, Morse closed the gap at the end and won a narrow victory, aided by the beginning of the Paris Peace Accords, which brought the possibility of the end of the war. Morse went on to lose in the general election to Bob Packwood.

Duncan returned to his Portland law practice, but after Edith Green retired from Congress, Duncan was elected to her seat in 1974 and returned to the House, this time representing the 3rd district in Portland. He served another three terms, and was upset in the 1980 Democratic primary by eventual winner Ron Wyden.

Later years and family

In 1985, he returned to live in Oregon, settling in the coastal community of Yachats. He served on the Northwest Power Planning Council from 1984 to 1988, and as its chairperson in 1987. Duncan’s wife Marijane died November 9 1990. Robert Duncan lives in Portland.


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