Nick Fish remembered as ‘gold standard of public service’


"He cared about other people, he was humble"

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Hundreds of family, friends, and community members gathered at Portland State University’s Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom Sunday to honor the late Nick Fish.

The late Commissioner of Portland died on January 2, days after announcing his battle with cancer had taken a turn for the worse. Fish was surrounded by his loved ones at the time of his passing. He was 61.

Sunday’s event was open to the public, but had limited seating available. The ballroom quickly filled up, and then the overflow room did as well, with people who all had their own stories of Fish’s empathy and compassion to share. They said he lived a life of love and laughter, and they admired his dedication to public service for all of the time and energy he put into it.

Pictures of Nick Fish over the years were shared at his memorial on Sunday. February 16, 2020 (KOIN)

Before the ceremony began, Fish’s wife, Patricia Schechter, said she hoped that this “first public celebration will begin to release our grief toward healing as well as inspire service to the community in Nick’s memory.”

Music and laughter were part of the celebration of the life of Fish. Community leaders from all facets of society spoke fondly of the late Commissioner. Former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts, a family friend and mentor to Fish, remembered him for his mischievous smile, his humor, and his empathy.

“You could sense his compassion and empathy in a single handshake,” Roberts shared with the crowd.

Pastor George Hocker spoke early on at the memorial. He told the audience that Fish was a “friend whom he loved and will always miss.” Hocker said the two often prayed for wisdom and strength together. Many called Fish a family man and a champion for the downtrodden and the homeless.

“Nick’s caring about people and justice had no boundaries,” said Hocker.

Oregon’s Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum echoed these sentiments when she said, “Unpretentious, curious, friendly, funny—these qualities were baked into Fish’s DNA.”

At one point during the service, a slideshow of photos of the late Commissioner over the years played, along with music.

Fish’s brother, Peter, said his brother “set a high bar” with his advocacy. Commissioner Mike Lindberg, Fish’s friend and confidant, recalled that Fish would meet with anyone who asked and he attended hundreds of events. Senator Ron Wyden described Fish as “the gold standard of public service.”

Mayor Ted Wheeler said Fish’s absence has been felt in the City Council chambers.

“He was just a really good guy,” said Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler. “He cared about other people, he was humble, he was willing to take the time to really meet with anyone and hear different perspectives. I think his real superpower, as far as his political skillset, was really finding areas of compromise. He could take deeply divided groups and bring them together. Isn’t that something we can really use more of?”

Life of Nick Fish

Fish was elected to the Portland City Council in a special election in 2008, and re-elected to successive four-year terms in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Fish was in charge of both the Bureau of Environmental Services and Portland Parks & Recreation. He was also the liaison to Elders in Action, Venture Portland and the Portland Film Office.

On New Year’s Eve, he announced he would resign from the Portland City Council because his illness took its toll.

“I no longer believe that I can do this work at the high level our community deserves and I expect of myself. I cannot escape the very sad fact that I will be unable to serve out the remainder of my term. I trust my Council colleagues to determine the most appropriate date for an election to select my successor, minimizing disruption and cost to the City.”

He planned to resign once his successor was elected. Schmanski told KOIN 6 News that day a special election will be scheduled and a successor could be elected as early as May or as late as the fall.

In August 2017, Fish announced he was diagnosed with adenocarcinoma of the abdomen — also known as stomach cancer.

nick fish april_446203
FILE – The late Portland Commissioner Nick Fish. (KOIN)

Fish maintained a busy schedule since his diagnosis in 2017 and was frequently the only council member to attend evening events.

About a year later, he was confident about his prognosis.

“I have always been confident I can balance my job and my treatments, which is why I ran for reelection and fully expect to finish my next term,” said Fish, who was reelected in the May 2018 primary. “People just might not see as much of me for awhile, and I want to prepare them for that.”

Fish posted the following statement on his city website on Dec. 10, 2019:

“Last week, I learned from my team of OHSU doctors that my illness has become more complicated. I am also managing the cumulative effects of chemotherapy. Through the rest of this month, I plan to take time to focus on my health and my family. I will continue to work as I am able and expect to have more to share in the new year.”

Nick Fish graduated from Harvard in 1981. While in that area he worked as a legislative aide to Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank.

Five years later he got a law degree from Northeastern University and then spent 10 years representing health care workers in New York.

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