Paul Errol Bragdon
Paul Errol Bragdon, former President of Reed College and other higher educational institutions and a leader in efforts to reform the Democratic Party in New York City in the 1950s and 1960s, died in Portland, Oregon on August 7, 2021 at the age of 94.
He was born April 19, 1927, in Portland, Maine the only child of Errol and Edith Bragdon. His father was a travelling paint and janitorial supply salesman and his mother was a homemaker who sold homemade fudge to get the family through the depression while Paul's father was ill and unemployed.
Determined to fight against fascism in World War II, Paul left high school early to volunteer in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 17. The GI Bill allowed Paul to become the first in his family to attend college, at Amherst College. He went on to Yale Law School, earning his degree in 1953. He moved to New York City to work for major Wall Street law firms, including Root, Ballantine, Bushby and Palmer, where one of his first legal roles was settling traffic violations for the driver of senior partner Thomas E. Dewey, former Governor of New York and 1948 Republican Presidential nominee, for whom Paul had certainly not voted.
In New York, Paul met and married Nancy Horton, who was building her own career as a photo editor at Life Magazine. They shared a love of politics, and in the 1950s became leaders of a new Democratic organizations focused on fighting the corrupt Tammany Hall machine and advocating for improved housing, women's equality, parks, and greater access to the ballot. Their mentors included Eleanor Roosevelt and former Governor Herbert Lehman. In 1958, Paul ran for the Democratic nomination in the 8th state Assembly District in Manhattan and defeated the Tammany machine candidate, the first insurgent challenger to do so. He lost the general election with 49 percent of the vote.
In the 1960s he held a series of posts in New York City Mayor Robert Wagner's office, Press Secretary, Executive Assistant, chief legislative representative, and liaison to a variety of progressive constituencies. He developed trusted relationships with a wide range of New York civic and political leaders, working closely with Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, and also as as a go between linking Wagner with Robert Kennedy.
One of his most memorable moments in New York politics came during the 1965 blackout, when he Paul was the voice of the administration all evening, single-handedly dealing with all press and live radio and television interviews. When the power came back on at 4 AM, Paul later recalled, he went to the Mayor's private refrigerator, "took out a bottle of dry vermouth, poured myself a glass, sat with my feet up on the desk and looked out over City Hall Park as the lights went on, and thought, 'Ah, my people are safe.'"
After leaving City Hall, Paul moved into the world of higher education, becoming Vice President of Public Affairs at New York University.
He was recruited to become President of Reed College in Portland, Oregon, in 1971, by Board leader John Gray. Reed, which had a strong academic reputation, was in financial distress and in need of new leadership. With the help of Gray and other civic leaders, he grew the Reed endowment substantially, built out academic programs, led capital campaigns to transform the campus, and focused on improving faculty compensation and the student experience. He left the Reed presidency in 1988.
After leaving Reed he focused his energies on improving other Oregon educational institutions, stepping in to lead the Oregon Graduate Institute when it encountered financial challenges, and coming out of retirement in his mid-seventies to serve as interim president of Lewis and Clark College. He was also an avid supporter of Oregon Health Sciences University. Along with others, he envisioned growing opportunity for the state if OHSU had the flexibility to set its own strategic direction and additional resources to pursue it. He worked successfully to link two organizations he led, OGI and the Medical Research Foundation, to OHSU.
Paul developed a love of reading and education from his mother and was a strong believer in the public library system. In the 1990s helped found the Library Foundation in Multnomah County and he continued to advise other community organizations.
He is survived by his wife Nancy, children David, Susan and Peter, and grandchildren Matthew, Emily Grace, Jane, Grace, and Annie. In keeping with Paul Bragdon's belief in public service, the family would request that any remembrances be directed to charity, and recommends two that were important to him in the course of his life: Reed College, and Oregon Health and Sciences University Foundation (the Melvin Judkins Cardiology Fund). The family anticipates holding a celebration of Paul's life later in the year, when public health officials determine gatherings are safe.