Treasurer Ben Westlund

Last night as we were watching the news before bed and found out Oregon State Treasurer Ben Westlund lost his battle with cancer and passed away.  This hit close to home since I have worked closely with the Westlund both through my work with the Oregon Jump$tart Coalition and Financial Beginnings since his nomination as State Treasurer.

Westlund’s passing caught many by surprise including me.  It was just in October that he had announced that his cancer was back.  That announcement also took me by surprise in October because the announcement of the cancer returning came right afater after he spoke at Financial Beginnings’ Annual Tribute Event.  The next day I had lunch with him and we spoke about our plan to bring personal finance instruction back into Oregon schools.  This was the first time I got to firsthand witness his ability to get everyone around him energized about his cause.

When Westlund was running for office in 2008 I saw him in a debate with his opponent Allen Alley at City Club.  I must admit I was very drawn to Allen Alley’s charismatic personality and many of the points Alley made.  But, the number one issue that got my attention was financial literacy and Westlund brought it up twice during the debate while Alley did not broach the subject.  I became sold on Westlund for Treasurer.

Financial Literacy has long been a priority in the Oregon Office of the State Treasurer.  Westlund’s predecessor, Randall Edwards, focused a lot on financial literacy.  Edwards created such programs as “The Price Is Wrong” (a financial literacy game show presented in Oregon schools) and “Reading Is An Investment” (a program run by the Oregon College Savings Plan which donates books to Oregon elementary schools with financial lessons).  Westlund has continued the Reading Is An Investment program .  The Price Is Wrong has also continued on through the Oregon Jump$tart Coalition which has updated the program to be an interactive Jeopardy game called “Jeopardized”.

Westlund’s campaign platform around financial literacy was to create a comprehensive financial education resource clearinghouse for Oregonians similar to the one that Jump$tart has.  Well as the chair of the Oregon Jump$tart Coalition this interested me obviously.  Westlund lived up to his promise and within a few months of being in office contacted me about how to work together to increase the financial literacy of Oregonians.  He lived up to his campaign promise!

On a personal note, I was very saddened to hear of the passing of Westlund because of my experience working with him was validation for my work in the financial education industry.  I recall back at the lunch in October Variny Paladino from National Jump$tart asking Westlund why he wanted to work with Jump$tart and he said “because of Melody”.  Wow, did that ever surprise me.  He commented on my energy and the work I’ve done in the industry and how he wanted me to help him in moving this cause forward.  What a huge compliment that was.

I am truly honored to have had the privilege for knowing and working with Ben Westlund.

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