First Amendment rights aside, sometimes speaking your mind has consequences. A Hermiston man paid the price in April of 1972 when his wife took to the opinion page in defense of personal freedom, pitting independent thought against conservative Eastern Oregon values.
Rocky Hays, 23, had worked for Jerry Myers on his Butter Creek farm for 18 months, and his employer was more than satisfied with his job performance. Myers said Hays had come to work for him with little experience, but learned fast. But on April 2, 1972, a letter to the editor in the East Oregonian by Hays’ wife, Kathy, rubbed Myers the wrong way, and a shocked Hays was given his walking papers as a result.
Kathy Hays, an honor student at Hermiston High School and 27 credit hours away from a degree in education from the University of Oregon, penned a defense of long hair after reading two submissions to the EO extolling the short haircuts worn by Future Farmers of America members at a recent convention in Pendleton, arguing that “short hair sometimes means nothing more than the antiquated parental prejudices forced on young people.”
“Ask an FFA member what goes on at FFA conventions,” Kathy wrote. “The answer would probably curl your eyebrows. My husband is now a 23-year-old farmer and he knows those conventions ain’t tame!”
Myers took offense to her inference that “kids at FFA raised hell,” though he agreed that “boys will be boys” when they’re away from home. “I didn’t know the attitude behind the letter,” the conservative farmer said. “They have the new liberal — super ecology — outlook.”
Myers did give Hays $200 severance pay, and said that with his skills and ability to learn quickly, he shouldn’t have any trouble finding another job.
Pendleton attorney Dennis Hachler said Hays likely had no legal recourse, as his firing didn’t fall under the Civil Rights Act of 1873. “There is no constitutional right to work for a man,” Hachler said.