Nick Fish as he walks through one of Portland's numerous parks that he oversaw. Courtesy of Portland Parks & Recreation

Commemorating Commissioner Nick Fish

PSU holds celebration of life in honor of Commissioner Fish, who passed away this year

Portland State hosted a celebration of life in the Smith Memorial Student Union Ballroom on Feb. 16 to eulogize Portland City Commissioner Nick Fish, who passed away in January of this year.


“One gathering alone cannot capture all that Portland meant to Nick or that Nick meant to Portland,” said Fish’s wife Patricia Schechter, who is the interim director of PSU’s Conflict Resolution Program and a professor of history. “We hope 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.” 


After graduating from Harvard and spending several years practicing law in New York City, Fish became a part of the Portland City Council in 2008. He supervised the Parks and Recreation department and Bureau of Environmental Services, coordinated cleaning of the Willamette River, as well as formed the Portland Housing Bureau—a bureau focused on the needs of low-income families, people experiencing houselessness, veterans and the elderly.


“I’ve been the clerk for 19 years,” said Karla Moore-Love, the city council clerk for Portland. “That’s where I came to know Nick. I’ve worked with a lot of great city commissioners, but Nick will always be one of my favorites.”


The packed Smith ballroom had many distinguished guests in attendance, such as senior United States Senator Ron Wyden and former Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts. Other guests took the stage to talk about their experiences with Fish and show their appreciation. 


“One of the first people I met [coming here] was Commissioner Nick Fish,” said PSU President Stephen Percy who opened the ceremony. “He welcomed me whole-heartedly. He was encouraging to me and helped me learn more about Portland.” 


Guest speakers such as state Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum spoke of what made the former commissioner so well liked. “Unpretentious, inclusive, curious, friendly, funny; these were baked into Nick Fish’s DNA,” Rosenblum said. 


Describing a previous summer picnic organized by Fish, Rosenblum said the event really showed Fish’s true colors in how he operated. “The people Nick really wanted to get to know were those who made the picnic happen. The caterers, the musicians. Nothing too menial a task to him.” 

Attendees to the commemoration of life at PSU Smith’s hall held white roses in remembrance.  Alex Wittwer/Portland State Vanguard

Halfway through, PSU professor of music Darrell Grant and Marcia Hocker, board member for PDX Jazz—a cultural initiative to celebrate jazz music by highlighting music education and performances in Portland—delivered most of their speech in the form of a 10-minute jazz duet. Before starting, Professor Grant spoke of how the former commissioner viewed people: “This was a man who, I can truly say, [thought] there was no ‘them,’” Grant said.


Fish’s younger brother, Peter Fish, was one of the last speakers of the event. “Reconnecting with Nick’s world is an honor for me,” Fish said. “I’m privileged to engage the love I’m encountering coast to coast. Portland gave the canvas to do what he did best: engage, confer, coalesce, serve.” 


Fish’s passing leaves a vacant position on Portland’s City Council. A special election will be held to fill the vacancy this May, with a March 10 deadline for all applicants. Potential candidates filing for the position will first need the endorsement signatures of 100 Portland voters to be listed on the upcoming ballot.  


There are 11 candidates who have entered their bid so far, such as former Multnomah County Commissioner Loretta Smith and Metro Councilor Sam Chase, who announced a bid to run back in January but has yet to file.


First to file for the position were community activists Robin Castro, a former PSU student, and Diana Gutman, an Army veteran who advocates for victims of domestic violence.  


Other commissioner seats that will be open or contested are those of Commissioner Amanda Fritz, who plans to retire, and Commissioner Chloe Eudaly, whose second city commissioner term is contested by former Portland mayor Sam Adams, who announced his bid in January.