John Hart (Washington, 1964) photo

John HartJohn Hart

John Hart (Washington, 1964) photo
March 2024 ~

His old high school isn’t his old high school anymore.

Yes, the stately brick building still stands out conspicuously on Stark Street, the school name immortalized in stone above the towering columns at its entry. But the interior of the old Washington High School is a far cry from what it was when John Hart, Ph.D. (1964) was roaming its halls. Same with the surrounding southeast Portland neighborhood, whose identity and culture have been transformed over the decades by home renovations, brewpubs, restaurants, shops and the other telltale signs of urban gentrification.

The old stomping grounds were a lot quieter, and a litter rougher around the edges, when Hart was walking the 10 blocks or so to Benson High to practice baseball or play a “home” game. Because while Washington was fielding sports teams, the school’s small footprint prevented it from doing so on its own fields.

Most of what Hart might remember about his alma mater became something else when, 30-plus years after it closed in 1981 due to low enrollment, the old school became a popular entertainment destination called Revolution Hall. Today, music fans enjoy concerts in the renovated auditorium where Hart sat through school assemblies. Old classrooms and other school facilities now house restaurants, bars and special event spaces.

In Hart’s day no one without the skills to fix an HVAC unit had any reason to visit the Washington High rooftop. Now in warm months, it’s often standing room only in an outdoor bar boasting one of Portland’s best skyline views.

Yes, Revolution Hall, a.k.a. Rock and Roll High School, is a far cry from the Washington High Hart remembers -- except for the one thing he may remember most fondly.

“It’s sad that the school is gone,” Hart says. “There was a lot of history there. I think one Washington grad won a Nobel Prize [that would be twice-decorated Nobel Laureate, Linus Pauling. Famed chef James Beard was also a Washington alumnus]. I remember as a freshman walking past the trophy case on the second floor and being amazed to see all these athletes and historical figures.”

All these years later, Hart, who now lives just outside Victoria, B.C., could still walk by that case, which was preserved by the Revolution Hall developers. For all he knows, he might see himself in it. He’s certainly worthy of a piece of real estate within.

While Hart earned one letter in basketball (his single year on the court coinciding with a PIL co-championship for the Colonials), he made his biggest impression on the diamond. As a senior pitcher, his 115 strikeouts led the PIL and helped earned him 1st Team All-PIL honors. It probably didn’t hurt (unless you were Hart’s left arm) that he also pitched in 19 of the 20 games on Washington’s schedule that year. He didn’t start them all, but neither was he just a late-inning closer.

“On my off day, I’d play left field, but would come in and pitch to the other team’s second, third, fourth and fifth hitters,” Hart says. “Then I’d go back to left field until the big hitters came up again.”

Hart remembers his won-loss record being a decent, if unremarkable, 5-4 as senior. But all those strikeouts and games pitched were remarkable achievements on a team as outmanned as Washington’s.

“Our senior year we were ranked No. 1 and went to state, but there were a couple games where we played with just two outfielders,” says Hart, who also was named outstanding pitcher in that year’s Metro-State All-Star game

The lack of numbers caught up to the team that summer when there weren’t enough players from the Washington district to field an American Legion squad. The team’s misfortune had the opposite effect on Hart and a handful of other Colonials, who were selected to play for Coach Jack Dunn’s Watco Electric legion “dream team,” as Hart calls it, which won the city championship that year.

“That was just fantastic,” he says. “Up until then, most of the teams I played on were OK. But that summer Watco had a really good team (which also included fellow PIL Hall of Famers Mike Clopton and Mick Ellet). I don’t think I gave up an earned run all summer.”

The season left a big enough impression that Hart refers to it in the website bio he penned for the PIL Hall of Fame, which he entered in 2018. “Whenever I see ‘Field of Dreams’ or read about ‘Boys of Summer,’ I think about the summer of ’64 and that team,” he wrote.

It was the kind of experience Hart had envisioned when he was a kid spending all of his allowance on baseball cards, playing whenever he could and soaking up all the knowledge of the game imparted by a series of “wonderful coaches.”

“Fortunately, I was able to get good at this one thing I loved,” Hart says.

Good enough to continue playing after high school at Linfield College, where he earned four letters and was the winning pitcher in the 1966 NAIA National Championship game. That was another remarkable feat considering he had barely pitched that year.

“I hurt my knee and missed most of the season, but Coach Roy Helser still took me to the small college world series,” Hart says. “I woke up the morning of the championship game (against Lewis University) and coach said, ‘You’re pitching today.’ I remember the other team’s lineup being announced over the PA and they had all these All-American-quality players. Then they announced ‘John Hart, with a record of Oh and Oh.’ You could just see the players on the other team thinking, We got these guys.”

And they were right. For a while.

“I had too much adrenaline the first few innings and gave up some hits and runs,” Hart remembers. “But Coach Helser came out to talk to me and gave me a chance to keep pitching. And I shut them out the rest of the way.”

Linfield, which entered the world series seeded last of the eight teams, won the game 15-4, which would earn Hart and his teammates spots in the Linfield Sports Hall of Fame in 1999 and the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.

Hart had dreams of pitching professionally, but those were shattered by, first, a bad car accident he says he was lucky to survive, then by the draft. Called up during the peak of the war, Hart spent ’69 and ’70 in Vietnam, serving as a psychology specialist.

“After that I had to figure out what I was going to do if I wasn’t going to be a baseball player,” Hart says.

Influenced by his Army experience and his brother, a clinical psychologist, Hart returned to school, earning a social work degree from Portland State then a doctorate from the University of Southern California.

“I practiced psychology in Los Angeles for 20 to 25 years,” he says. “I worked with Emmy and Oscar winners, Olympic athletes and singers who were struggling with stage fright. I called myself a performance psychologist, helping train people to be at their best.”

Hart kept plenty busy outside of his practice as well. He ran across a Mexican baseball league playing in the Santa Barbara area, tracked down one of the coaches, asked for a tryout and, at age 44, made “a pretty good semi-pro team. I think it came down to everybody needs a left-handed pitcher,” Hart quips.

Hart also worked with the National Children’s Advocacy Center to teach psychiatrists and psychologists “how to keep their spirit and soul alive” through the difficult, often painful process of working with victims of child abuse. In addition, he assisted the government of Norway in the development of a National Fathering Project designed to teach new fathers how to be a dad, then returned to the country each summer for 10 years to coach in the program.

After helping develop Alabama A&M University’s first master’s in social work program, Hart moved on to New Mexico Highlands University, where he taught master’s students and also worked in the community connecting new dads with experienced fathers who could serve as coaches.

New Mexico was also where Hart would write a nonfiction book about fathering and eventually experience the significant health setback that would motivate his move to Canada.

“I was skiing at 11,000 feet with a friend and had my first heart attack,” he says. “There was no way to get down other than to ski. When I got down, I had to wait an hour for an ambulance. By then, I’d lost a lot of heart muscle.”

No longer able to tolerate the breathing difficulties he experienced living at 7,500 feet elevation, Hart moved to Vancouver Island and returned to the passion he first discovered back at Mt. Tabor School.

“There was a wonderful teacher there, Mrs. Miller, who picked me to to be part of a writer’s group, and it was so great. When I first got to college, other than being a pro baseball player, I was wanting to be a writer.”

In California and Alabama, Hart had joined some poetry groups and written journal articles and, in New Mexico, that nonfiction book. But once he moved to Victoria, he started writing screenplays, one of which he turned into his first novel, Unbreakable: There Will Be Killing. That would become the first in a three-book Murder on the Mekong trilogy.

While he is still an adjunct associate professor at the University of Victoria School of Child and Youth Care, Hart “retired” after his first heart attack at age 54. He has since worked his writing around a series of other health setbacks, including four more heart attacks and, three years ago, a diagnosis of stage 4 melanoma that he survived against significant odds.

“The doctor said ‘We can try this new immunotherapy that works in 20 to 30 percent of patients. Otherwise, you’ve got 12 months to live’.”

Three years later, Hart is wrapping up the first draft of his fourth novel, which revolves around the “life of a celebrity shrink in L.A.”

“Going through cancer and the heart attacks has been challenging,” he says. “You have these things where part of your life gets taken away, and the challenge is how do you not just go to a dark place? How do you make things the best you can make them? I’ve done this partly by using all that I’ve learned about psychology and partly with all the lessons I learned growing up, playing baseball and learning from good coaches.”

The writing has helped too, as has the painting Hart started 16 years ago. “After my first heart attack, I needed to find something to do. I went to the senior center and started learning from this master Chinese brush painter. At first, he would stand behind me and say, ‘Very bad. Very, very bad,” Hart says, laughing.

After several years of study, Hart became very, very good. He’s been a resident artist at a hotel in Hawaii and had his art shown and sold in galleries on the Big Island, where he and his wife Andrea, also an artist, lived part-time for several years.

“It’s been very pleasing. It’s not like sport. You can get better as you get older,” he says.

It’s also true, Hart adds, that with age he has gotten better at recognizing the things that are most important to him. His wife and family, which includes a daughter and three stepchildren. His memories and the people who helped make them.

His induction into the PIL Hall of Fame gave him the opportunity to reconnect with several of those folks. “That was such an honor,” he says. “When I was up on the stage that night, I looked over at a table of friends who were there for me. It really struck home that, though I’d spent a large part of my life trying to win trophies, those men and women I grew up with as boys and girls are what really matter to me now.”

That same night, Hart gathered for a mini-reunion with those former classmates on the rooftop of their old high school. It wasn’t the Washington High he remembered, but that didn’t matter. His best memories of it hadn’t changed at all.

Do you know John Hart? If you’d like to reconnect, he can be reached at drjlhart@me.com

For more information about his books or artwork, visit:

murderonthemekong.com and drjlhart.com

Photo Note: Click on a photo to see its caption. 


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