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Category 4: Long-form, Average Joe
Margaret St. James
For decades, under myriad last names, Maggie was the life of any party. She was beautiful, spoiled, wild, willful, outrageous, glamorous and heedless.
Maggie, swathed in Edward Hamilton furs and Zell Bros. jewels, was a fixture in Portland nightclubs. She drove pink Lincoln Continentals, lived in mansions in Irvington and Portland Heights, and married men with more looks than integrity.
Her mother, notorious Portland abortionist Ruth Barnett, paid for it all.
Then, when Maggie was in her late 50s, her mother cut her off. Maggie spent the rest of her life working her tail off -- sometimes subsisting on welfare -- and renounced cigarettes, alcohol and men.
Margaret Cohen was born in Seattle to Ruth and Harry Cohen, a salesman for Can't Bust'm Overalls. (She was told in midlife, however, that her father wasn't Harry but his more sophisticated brother, Arthur.) Ruth and Harry divorced, and Ruth and Maggie moved to Portland when Maggie was a child.
Ruth became a naturopath as a front. Maggie went to her mother's offices in the Broadway Building every day after school, and Ruth would slap a dollar in her palm and tell her to go see a movie. Maggie nicknamed herself "Buck-a-Day Annie."
Ruth estimated that she performed more than 40,000 abortions starting in 1918; though the practice was illegal, as a "high-class" provider, she was ignored for decades. Maggie herself had several abortions as a teenager, performed by her mother. (Later, Ruth was arrested several times and served time in prison.)
Fees were in cash, and Ruth and Maggie squandered millions of dollars. Money was stashed in hatboxes under beds and in closets. Though clients ignored Ruth when she saw them in the aisles of Strohecker's Grocery or Meier & Frank, Ruth was accepted among the night people -- including prostitutes, pimps and gamblers, and the policemen and politicians who frequented the same clubs. Ruth soon introduced Maggie to night life, buying Maggie's first fake ID so they could go out together.
But as Ruth's income grew, so did Maggie's acquisitiveness and wild behavior. Her mother sent her to board at St. Mary's Academy, thinking the nuns would straighten her out. But Maggie was asked to leave. There's no record of her finishing high school.
Maggie began marrying young, and Ruth bought each husband a suit, car and house. Usually, Ruth also bankrolled a short-lived business. Maggie had 10 verifiable marriages, but some children count more. Ruth would drop in at the start of the month to pick up bills and pay the cook, housekeeper, nurse and gardener.
Maggie's daughter, Ruth Knight, was born in 1945. Ruth adored her namesake; after Maggie showed little interest in motherhood, Ruth took her granddaughter in.
Maggie had David Hacker in 1946; Nina Hacker in 1948; and, while battling polio, Danny Motter in 1951. They had a beloved housekeeper, Florence "Flossie" Sellers, who stayed with the family for 19 years.
Husbands came and went. Ruth Knight rejoined Maggie's household when she was about 12. She and the other children were taught never to answer questions about the family. Still, Doug Baker, a gossip columnist for the Oregon Journal, found the family rich fodder.
Ruth financed many businesses for Maggie, including the Roman Weight Control Clinic on Northwest 21st Avenue, which featured injections of hormones from the urine of pregnant women. Maggie lost interest, and the city closed it.
Maggie married Turk Glover in 1958 when he was 26 and she 41, and they owned restaurant-lounges in downtown Portland. The three younger children changed their last names to Glover to keep things simple at school.
Then Turk was shot to death by a fired bandleader as he and Maggie counted money. The next day, Maggie told her children of his death and the death by cancer the same day of a favorite ex-husband, Don Motter.
Maggie left for Anchorage with son Danny, leaving the other children with Florence and Ruth. She returned after a year or so with another husband, Gene, and his bodyguard. Gene became a paraplegic after he was shot, and Maggie eventually divorced him.
Maggie's last husband was Wally Charleston. When Ruth refused Wally and Maggie money, Wally knocked her down and grabbed her purse. Maggie was disinherited and never saw her mother again.
Maggie went to work in a series of menial jobs separated by bursts of enterprise. She drifted among Hawaii, Portland, California and Florida. She owned a sandwich shop in Portland and two restaurants and a clothing store in Hawaii. In Carmel, Calif., she was a kitchen supervisor for the Carmel Country Spa and wrote a cookbook, "The Cook Wore Tennis Shoes."
She raised another four children. In 1966 and 1967, she took in babies Shannon and Jason, whose mothers were friends. Maggie's daughter, Ruth Knight, married Wally Charleston's brother, Everett. They had three children, including Jamie in 1975. When Ruth asked for help with baby Jamie, Maggie took him and never gave him back. Later, she took in a school friend of Jamie's, another Danny.
She drifted from home to home and job to job, including washing dishes at a Portland nursing home. She often asked her older children for help, and sometimes went on welfare.
In 1971, she changed her last name to St. James after the actress Susan Saint James.
As her health failed, her son, Danny Glover, took her in and cared for her and Jamie, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. When Danny couldn't deal with her any longer, Maggie's daughter, Nina, brought her to Vancouver in 2003. She was placed in a loving foster care home, Semina's Adult Quality Care, and Nina looked after her until she died Nov. 15, 2009, at age 94.
Maggie was a difficult, complicated woman. Two of her children learned that the men they thought were their fathers were not, just as Maggie had. Yet some accepted and loved her as she was.
"She was strong, loving and assertive," says her favorite child, Danny Glover, a born-again Christian and abortion opponent. "She was very positive and wouldn't let anything get her down. She would always rise to the occasion."