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'Doc' to all

Alan “Doc” Bates had a secret that only his closest family members knew, but it wouldn't necessarily come as a surprise to his many close friends.

“Alan was a romantic,” says his wife, Laurie Bates. “Every year on our anniversary, he insisted on planning it out for us. We would listen to music, have a glass of wine, and it would be wonderful. He just loved me, unconditionally.”

Alan Bates, who died unexpectedly on Aug. 5 at age 71 after a day of fishing at Diamond and Lemolo lakes, touched many lives in the community and at the Legislature, where he served as representative and senator since 2001.

Friends and family say there was little separation between his career as a medical doctor in Medford and at the Legislature, where he worked tirelessly on health-care issues. He attempted to create a health-care system that was responsive to the needs of the many patients he saw over the years, and he was a leading voice on environmental and education issues.

Laurie, 56, who manages the medical clinic where her husband practiced, says she had no inkling that Bates had any health problems. The day before he died after fishing in Douglas County, Bates had gone on a hike in the Blue Lake area in the Sky Lakes Wilderness with his son.

“Personally, I thought he’d live to be 100,” she says.

Laurie says the autopsy hasn’t found anything conclusive, but it appears her husband had some sort of heart issue.

On two recent road trips to Denver and Anacortes, Wash., to visit family, the couple, who have been married seven years, didn’t even turn on the radio because they had so much to share with each other.

“We just talked the whole way,” Laurie says.

The couple’s favorite pastime together was to enjoy a glass of wine on the porch in the evening and just talk.

“I just feel so empty and lost,” Laurie says. “I just miss him.”

Alan didn’t discuss his U.S. Army service in Vietnam much, but Laurie remembers Alan telling a friend that when he came home from war after seeing the terrible things over there, he felt compelled to make the world a better place.

“He loved people, and he loved what he did,” she says. “I can’t even count the number of house calls he’s done. Alan struck everyone he met as a man of integrity, and that was something he brought home with him as well.”

Bates made himself available to patients and friends at all hours of the day and night. He lived a relentless pace, once driving from Salem to Bend, and then back to Medford to perform a medical procedure at night.

Josh Balloch, who worked with Bates on health-care legislation, says three years ago his wife suffered life-threatening complications during pregnancy, and he received different advice from two doctors. Confused over what decision he and his wife should make, Balloch reached out to Bates.

“I called Doc at 10:30 at night, and he helped walk me through it,” Balloch says. “Luckily my wife is still alive, and I have a healthy 3-year-old.”

In 2011, when Bates was working on setting up coordinated care organizations throughout the state, Balloch remembers having a highly technical discussion when Bates got interrupted four or five times to take a call from various doctors.

“I don’t know how many times I was in his office, and we were really deep into a conversation about policy, when a doctor would call looking for advice,” says Balloch, now vice president of government affairs and health policy for AllCare Health, a CCO covering southwestern Oregon. “Then he would jump into this crazy medical thing, and then he would jump back into the insanely complicated legislative world.”

At the Legislature, Balloch says he frequently saw Bates rushing to offer medical aid to legislators and others, sometimes calling for an ambulance to take them to the emergency room.

“He literally was the primary care provider for the 2,000 people working at the Legislature,” Balloch says. “He always had his black bag with him. The phrase ‘larger than life’ has been thrown around more than it should be, but it definitely applied to my friend.”

Balloch says Bates took the practical lessons he learned from his practice and from serving others to craft legislation that would get services directly to those in need, while striving to create services that could be offered in a cost-effective manner.

“What made Bates an amazing legislator is that he didn’t get lost in the numbers,” Balloch says. “What he saw was the people he treated that weekend and how he could help them.”

Bates' efforts to protect the environment often got him into hot water with conservatives. After he introduced a bill in 2013 that would have added 30 streams to the State Scenic Waterways program and prohibit suction dredge mining on such streams, a newly formed Citizens for Transparent Government threatened a recall, claiming property owners weren't properly notified. The bill died in committee, however, and the recall effort along with it.

An attempt Bates made earlier this year to extend and broaden a suction-dredging moratorium in place on wild salmon streams also died in committee, which Bates blamed on delay tactics by mining interests.

Away from the Legislature and his practice, Bates enjoyed his two passions in life: family and fishing.

Samantha Bates Tipler, Bates' youngest daughter from his first marriage, says her dad loved fishing, and especially liked going fishing with his family.

The 33-year-old Klamath Falls resident remembers one fishing trip with her dad. She had a brand new, expensive camera in her backpack and was wading across a river, carefully holding her fishing rod in the air.

Bates Tipler slipped, and the backpack and the camera got dunked, but she managed to keep the rod firmly gripped in her hand, safely out of the water.

“In my family, you don’t break a rod,” Bates Tipler says. “And my dad had made it for my mom.”

While family and fishing were a priority for her dad, she was aware from a very young age that Bates threw himself into his work and into helping others.

“Everyone who interacted with him thought of him as a personal friend,” she says.

Sometimes work meant her father wasn’t always around for family events, but Bates Tipler says her dad made an effort to be there for important occasions.

“I was a horrible swimmer, but he made sure to come to the meets,” she remembers.

Her dad was well-known for saving lives both in his practice and in Salem. Sen. Alan Olsen, a Republican from Canby, says Bates saved his life when he had a heart attack in 2015 at the Capitol.

“I chuckled to myself when I saw it in the newspaper because he did that kind of thing every day,” Bates Tipler says. “He would stop on the highway to help someone, or if a friend was sick, he would help them."

Bates Tipler credits Laurie, her stepmother, with making sure her dad spent enough time with his family as well as pushing him to take more vacation time.

When the movie “Wild” premiered in Ashland, Laurie and Alan had two tickets, but her stepmom offered to give Bates Tipler her ticket.

“My dad canceled his evening appointments, we got dressed up and I went with my father,” she recalls.

Jeff Scroggin, who was Bates’ legislative chief of staff for two years, says his former boss is the leading architect of the Oregon health-care system that we have today.

“He is legitimately the father of our current health-care transformation,” Scroggin says. “He was a mentor, like a father to me.”

Scroggin, who is at the Oregon Health Authority, says Bates worked closely on crafting legislation for health-care reform with former Gov. John Kitzhaber, also a doctor, but also with many other members of the Legislature from both political parties.

“One of the things that made him special is that he was a moderate, and he was bipartisan,” Scroggin says.

Scroggin, who ran for Jackson County commissioner in 2012, says it will be difficult for Democrats to find a replacement to fill Bates’ shoes in the Legislature.

“In my opinion, he is literally irreplaceable,” Scroggin says.

In addition to his wife and daughter Bates Tipler, Bates is survived by children Kim Bates Bethel, Krista Bates, Keri Bates Carland, Curtis Bates, Brian Marquard and Shelley Marquard and their spouses; 10 grandchildren; a sister, Ginny Ferrari, of Calgary, Alberta, Canada; his mother, Betty Bates, of Anacortes, Wash.; and an ex-wife, Sharon "Sam" Bates, of Eugene.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him on www.twitter.com/reporterdm.

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