Paula Walker is retiring from the Tigard Public Library after nearly three decades, but that job is only one of many during her long and varied career that included stints as a press secretary and speechwriter for a governor, a researcher for a national publication, a writer for a national magazine and a radio station host (which she continues to do).
Walker is the first to admit that she has been the recipient of some lucky breaks during her career.
Born and raised in Chicago, Walker earned a degree in journalism at the University of Montana in Missoula. After college she moved to Washington, D.C., for an internship and answered a blind ad in the Washington Post. She was one of 300 applicants for a position as a research editor at the Congressional Quarterly, a privately-owned publication that reports on the U.S. Congress, and she was one of fewer than 10 people who got the job.
When the job ended after nine months, Walker was retained for a summer job to write editorial research reports.
“It was three months of working on timely issues,” she said. “I got to do so many wonderful things. I generated 450-word articles that were syndicated and appeared in newspapers across the country.”
As a self-described former flaming feminist, Walker’s next job suited her perfectly. She went to work for the National Organization of Business and Professional Women writing for its National Business Woman magazine.
“I covered all sorts of women’s issues and I got to march down Pennsylvania Avenue with 5,000 other women commemorating the passage of the 19th Amendment that gave women the right to vote,” Walker said.
“But I had been away from Montana for three years. I moved to Helena, the state capitol, and applied for jobs. A friend’s husband was working for the sitting governor, and his office was looking for a deputy press secretary. Part of the job was speech-writing. When I applied for the job, I was asked to write a speech about anything.”
“I got the job and was assigned to the lieutenant governor, Ted Schwinden, without having met him, and we hit it off. I loved writing speeches for him. I wrote about 600 speeches when he was lieutenant governor and governor. But I resigned after four years because I basically was a ghostwriter and wanted to get bylines. I moved to the Portland area for a job that lasted 18 months.”
Continuing her streak of new opportunities arising as jobs ended, Gov. Schwinden needed a press secretary/speechwriter for his last year in office. The problem was that Walker really liked living in Oregon, so a compromise was reached. She worked in Montana for three weeks a month and returned to Oregon for a week, making the 11-hour drive back and forth for a year.
Finally settled permanently in Oregon, Walker did freelance writing for a couple years until she saw an ad for a part-time job at the Tigard Library. She got the job, which involved working nights and weekends as a library assistant, then was hired as a library assistant III that turned into the circulation manager job. After ten years, in 2000, Walker left to write, not intending to go back.
But the city was putting a library bond measure on the ballot, and the library director asked her to come back part-time until the election in 2002, but Walker stayed on and became the first library communications manager. The bond measure was successful, and Walker said, “That was the high point of my library career, although there have been many highs along the way.”
Between 2000 and 2002, what she calls her “year of living dangerously,” Walker baked scones at Primo Espresso and landed a radio show on KMHD (a Portland FM jazz station).
“I was a jazz fan,” she said. “After all, I grew up in Chicago. The station had a ‘30 minutes of fame’ fundraiser. For making a donation, you could do a live half-hour program. I’m a theme person. I put together a program around food, using songs like ‘You’re the Cream in my Coffee.’ I met the station general manager just before I went on the air. He ran the boards for me. We talked while the songs played, and before the show was over, he said, ‘I have a proposition for you.’”
There were no shifts open at the station at that time, but the general manager said he would contact her when one opened up.
“A Thursday night guy moved to a different time slot,” Walker said. “At that time, it was all volunteers on the air, and the station was based at Mount Hood Community College. While at Mount Hood, I got to cover two jazz festivals in Switzerland, another high point in my life,”
In 2009 the station joined Oregon Public Broadcasting and moved to its studio on Macadam Avenue.
“Over the years, my airtime slot went from four to three to two hours and eventually moved to Sunday afternoon,” Walker said. “I have done three different shows in 19 years. ‘Cooking with Jazz’ ran for two years. Next was ‘The Bridge on Daytimes.’ Six years ago, I started ‘CineJazz,’ which features jazz in movies. I spend about 10 hours preparing each show. After 19 years, I still enjoy jazz, and the research is fun. I will do a radio show as long as they let me.”
(Walker’s show runs from 3 to 5 p.m. Sundays on 89.1 FM.)
After 28 years at the library, Walker is ready for the next stage but also proud of her time working at the Tigard library. “I firmly believe that as long as I’m healthy, I have a responsibility to do something to improve society,” she said. “And the public library is a great place to do it.”
Walker has lots of plans for retirement, including taking a road trip with her husband to the Southwest and watching the Chicago Cubs’ spring training.