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Nashua native Val Hoyle looks back on nearly 50 years in politics

By Dean Shalhoup - Senior Staff Writer | Jan 21, 2023

(Photo courtesy of KLCC) With supporters looking on, Val Hoyle celebrates her historic election to Oregon's 4th District Congressional seat in November. She is the first woman in Oregon history to serve the 4th District. At right is Peter DeFazio, who stepped down after 36 years representing the 4th District.

Growing up in Nashua, Val Toomey, who attended Hudson’s Presentation of Mary Academy and graduated from Merrimack HIgh School in 1983, split her time between school, visiting Goodale’s bike shop to peruse the latest bike-industry magazines, and “pounding the pavement” up and down Main Street campaigning vigorously – and tirelessly – for an array of causes and candidates who aligned with her political and societal views.

In the mid-1970s, in what was probably her first foray into the world of grassroots political campaigning, Val Toomey remembers “knocking on doors” across the city to help get her chosen candidate elected to the Nashua Fire Commission.

At the time, Val Toomey, now U.S. Rep. Valerie Hoyle – who in November became the first woman elected to represent Oregon’s 4th Congressional District – was 9 years old.

Her chosen candidate was Dan Toomey – her father – a now-retired Nashua firefighter and labor leader who for years headed Local 789, the firefighters’ union, while also serving as a Democratic state legislator representing Nashua’s Ward 5.

“That’s how I got involved in politics,” Hoyle said last week, speaking from her home in Springfield, a Eugene suburb about two-thirds the size of Nashua and roughly two hours south of Portland.

“He was working at Sanders, we lived on Kinsley Street at the time,” she added, referring to the former Nashua-based defense contractor now known as BAE Systems.

Now and then, Hoyle said, her father would give her some kind of campaign-related task when she got home from school. “It was the weirdest afterschool program ever,” she said with a laugh.

But as it turned out, what little Val Toomey learned first-hand about politics and getting elected while still several years away from voting age would come in quite handy for an adult Valerie Hoyle.

“I felt that my voice mattered … I was able to make a difference even before I was old enough to vote,” she said.

Hoyle is quick to point to the fact she grew up in a comparatively tiny state where residents eschew giant, gala-style campaign events in favor of small, informal gatherings in a church basement of a neighbor’s family room, for her early interest, and eventual success, in the political world.

“There’s a certain pride (among residents) in New Hampshire for being engaged in local issues, because they matter,” Hoyle said.

Whether or not the national Democratic party succeeds in knocking New Hampshire’s generations-long tradition – the First in the Nation Presidential Primary – from the top spot in favor of a more diverse state or states, nobody can argue that Granite Staters “feel a great responsibility and duty in being First-in-the-Nation … growing up in New Hampshire was a great benefit for me.”

Back in 1970s Nashua, Hoyle’s work for her father’s Fire Commission campaign didn’t end with the election.

The 1976 Democratic primary was coming up fast, and the Toomey household was gearing up by choosing the candidate they would back.

“My dad wanted Tom Harkin, he was the labor guy,” Hoyle said. (Harkin ended up not running). “My mom volunteered for Ford because she was a pro-choice Republican – back when there was such a thing,” Hoyle said. Gerald Ford, who assumed office upon the resignation of Richard Nixon, would end up losing to Jimmy Carter in the general election.

As for Hoyle, by then a veteran political activist at the ripe old age of 11, chose Maurice Udall, the Congressman from Arizona, because he was “the conservation candidate.”

Hoyle, a lifelong bicycling enthusiast who worked at various bike shops in Greater Boston while attending Bunker Hill Community College and later, Emmanuel College.

Living in Dorchester during her college years, Hoyle met her future husband, Stephen Hoyle, and upon her graduation the couple moved west, initially to Wisconsin, where she was hired in international sales for Trek, the bicycle manufacturer and dealer.

She would later take a job in Eugene, Oregon, at a company that manufactures bicycle trailers. They moved to nearby Springfield, where Hoyle resumed her involvement in Democratic politics.

In 2010, she won a seat in the Oregon State House, and eight years later was elected Commissioner of Labor and Industries.

Until November, Oregon’s 4th Congressional District had never been represented by a woman. Hoyle decided to run against Republican Alek Scarlatos when Democratic U.S. Rep. Peter DeFazio announced he would be stepping down after 36 years serving the people of the 4th District.

“We out worked ’em! Because we have the heart,” a beaming Hoyle said at a victory celebration at a Springfield union hall, according to a story written by KLCC reporter Tiffany Eckert and posted to its website that night.

As the roomful of supporters applauded and cheered, Hoyle hugged her dad, then turned to DeFazio. “It’ll be impossible to fill these shoes,” she said, pointing at DeFazio. “But I want to say, I am so very proud. So very proud,” Eckert wrote in the KLCC story.

Dean Shalhoup may be reached at 594-1256 or dshalhoup@nashuatelegraph.com.


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