Former Port Orford Mayor Jim Auborn died Saturday morning in Portland after experiencing unexpected complications from a long-term illness. He was 79.
Auborn was born Feb. 21, 1940, in Portland and graduated Benson Polytechnic High School before attending Portland State University and transferring to Oregon State University on an NROTC scholarship.
There, he studied electrical engineering, mathematics, chemistry and physics, graduating and starting with the U.S. Navy as a submarine officer with his last station in the Puget Sound area in Washington from 1962 to 1969.
He married his college sweetheart, Karen Roberts, Sept. 15, 1962 and the couple have two sons, John of Ridgecrest, California, and Joseph of Glen Ridge, New Jersey.
In 1969, Auborn left active duty with the Navy to earn his PhD in physical chemistry in 1971 from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. From there, he went to GTE Laboratories in Waltham, Massachusetts, as a technical program manager until 1976 — inventing the lithium-thionyl chloride battery. He then worked as the director at Bell Laboratories in New Jersey.
In 1992, left the U.S. Naval Reserve, as captain, where he had been working with the Office of Naval Research.
He continued at Bell until 1999, when he started work as the vice president of research at Terabeam in Kirkland, Washington, until 2001. Throughout his career, he patented several batteries and fiber optic machinery.
He and Karen retired to Port Orford in 2000.
“He just loved Port Orford,” his sister Susan Auborn Dietderich said. “When they retired, they were going to be nice and quiet and enjoy life but he got so involved with the city council and wanted to help with improvements; he just loved it there.”
He volunteered at the visitor’s center, and was appointed to the parks commission in 2001 before being elected to the council in 2002. He served as “Mayor Jim” from 2004 to 2016 and since then as councilor again.
He was also active in the Rotary Club and other local organizations.
“His loss is huge, personally and to the community,” said Karen Jennngs who worked with Karen and Jim on the Port Orford Main Street Revitalization project. “He and Karen are almost larger than life. He made sure Port Orford was known outside our little corner of the world.”
She laughed when asked about her favorite memory.
“His big smile and his warm heart and the way he literally cared so much for this city,” she said. “He gave his whole heart to making this a better place for all of us.”
“He had a wonderful sense of humor and was protective of his little sisters,” sister Susan recalled. “He was extremely intelligent; I was always impressed with his academic achievements.”
His sons said he was a fantastic father and role model.
“We miss him dearly,” they said.
Auborn was a Port Orford council member from 2002 to 2010, when he was elected mayor until 2017. He most recently served as a council member.
“It saddens me a great deal; I truly loved that man,” said Gold Beach Mayor Karl Popoff, who worked closely with Auborn and then-Brookings Mayor Ron Hedenskog on city issues. “It struck me pretty hard. I thought so much of him. He was just a good, decent man. He’s not going to be an easy man to replace in many ways. He was special.”
He survived a recall election in 2014 in part because a port commissioner believed the mayor tried to force the creation of a Cape Blanco National Marine Sanctuary for the region he believed would harm the community’s economic base and went against the wishes of the community.
He wasn’t shy about tackling tough issues, friends said.
Auborn sided with the other elected officials in Curry County’s cities in their support of a county home rule charter in 2016, and met with other mayors to discuss the impacts of a House bill that would have allowed the governor to impose an income tax for law enforcement in Curry County.
He worked on a committee to try to form a law enforcement taxing district and with Hedenskog and Popoff in a Mayors and Managers group — the M&M group — on issues pertinent to cities.
“I referred to him once as a prince of a man,” Hedenskog said. “He was a good friend, a good colleague, a good volunteer to make Curry County a better place. He’ll be missed.”
Auborn also felt a proposed golf course, Pacific Gales, could help the local economy, which is among the poorest in the state. He was also curious in 2016 if a 3 percent sales tax might be able to generate enough funds for the county, which has been deemed by the state to be “fiscally distressed.” The issue never made the ballot.
Friends and fellow residents remember Auborn for the work he did on behalf of the city, calling him dedicated, selfless, a great leader, honorable and kind.
Auborn is survived by his wife Nancy, brother, Richard of Central Point; and sisters Susan Auborn Dietderich of Gresham, Julie Beswick of Springfield, and MaryLou Luce of Seattle, Washington; and grandchildren Sam, Max and Caroline Auborn of New Jersey.
A celebration of life will be held in Port Orford next month and his ashes scattered at sea.