Paul Bragdon, former Reed College president, dies at 94
Paul Bragdon, who led Reed College for the better part of two decades and also had a hand in shaping other Portland higher education institutions, has died at the age of 94.
Information furnished by his oldest son — David, a former Metro president — indicated that Bragdon died Saturday, Aug. 7, in Portland, of complications from Alzheimer's disease.
He is survived by his wife, the former Nancy Horton; three children — David, who worked in New York City after his Metro presidency and is still there; Susan, a lawyer who specializes in intellectual property related to food and agriculture, and Peter, executive vice president of Columbia Sportswear and a former chief of staff for Gov. Ted Kulongoski — and five grandchildren.
"Paul became president of Reed at an especially difficult moment in the college's history, with multiple challenges that led some to question Reed's viability," Audrey Bilger, Reed's current president, said in a message Sunday. "With Nancy by his side, Paul's caring and stalwart leadership allowed theÂ Reed community to regain its strength and continue to offer its distinctive education in the liberal arts and sciences to the thousands of students who have chosen to enroll."
The family requests that charitable donations go to Reed College for unrestricted purposes, and the Oregon Health & Science University Foundation, specifically earmarked for the Melvin Judkins M.D. Cardiovascular Endowed Professorship.
When he left Reed College in 1988, an observer said Bragdon "had a positive affinity for the unexpected" and "made a career by deciding to put himself in the way of surprises."
"These characteristics served him both professionally and personally throughout the course of his long life, guided by a commitment to good citizenship," a release from David Bragdon said.
Coming to Reed
Bragdon already had had a career in New York City politics — even a campaign for the state Assembly at age 31 — and was vice president of public affairs for New York University when John Gray, then leader of Reed College's board, recruited him to become its president in 1971.
He would stay for 17 years, the longest tenure of any president at the college since its founding in 1908.
The liberal arts college had a strong academic reputation, but it was teetering financially. Reed's announcement of Bragdon's hiring specified "the extreme need to obtain more operating income for the college."
Bragdon, in a 2003 oral history interview, said the situation was direr.
"There was gossip in higher education that Reed was either bankrupt or going bankrupt," he said. "The truth was, there was no liquidity; the college was dependent on tuition and the number of students who came."
Reed's endowment grew from $4.4 million at the start of Bragdon's tenure to $65 million by its end. Its five-year fundraising campaign at the end of his presidency netted $65 million in gifts and pledges, $20 million above its target.
During his presidency, nearly 40% of Reed's graduates to that date received their degrees. The first endowed faculty chairs and visiting professorships were established. Among the buildings built was Vollum College Center, with space for classrooms, faculty offices and student lounges, plus the first lecture hall large enough to accommodate the biggest classes. A major addition to Hauser Library also got underway.
A new residence hall was named after him in 1998, a decade after his presidency.
"He introduced a system of accountability that stood the college in good stead going forward, and he re-established its credibility with the East Coast establishment and with funding sources," Lena Lencek, a professor of Russian since 1977, said of Bragdon. "He really performed a Herculean task in moving Reed out of one league into another. Bragdon was a real mensch."
Bragdon's previous job at New York University prepared him for such large-scale efforts. He led a group — which included Columbia, Cornell, Rochester, Syracuse and FordhamÂ — that secured the first state support for New York's independent colleges and universities in the 1960s.
More Oregon jobs
But even upon retirement from Reed at age 61, Bragdon was not through with Oregon education.
He became education adviser to Gov. Neil Goldschmidt in 1988, and then president of the Medical Research Foundation of Oregon in 1990. He concluded that the foundation would be better off with a direct connection to what was then Oregon Health Sciences University. The merger occurred in 1994.
He became president of Oregon Graduate Institute in 1994, when it too was struggling financially. He left in 1998, but not before clearing the way for its eventual merger in 2001 with OHSU, when it became Oregon Health & Science University to reflect the nonmedical programs from the Graduate Institute.
He returned to higher education one more time, when he became interim president of Lewis & Clark College in 2004-05.
He received honorary degrees from six colleges, among them Reed, OHSU, Lewis & Clark, Pacific University — and Amherst College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950.
New York career
Paul Errol Bragdon was born April 19, 1927, in Portland, Maine, the only child of Errol and Edith Bragdon. Errol Bragdon was a traveling salesman of paint and janitorial supplies — he was unemployed for long stretches because of illness — and Edith Bragdon was a homemaker who sold fudge to get the family through the Great Depression.
Paul Bragdon joined the U.S. Marine Corps at age 17, two months before his normal graduation from high school, so he could fight during World War II. He was preparing for a U.S. invasion of Japan before two atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and Japan surrendered.
Benefits under the GI Bill enabled him to attend Amherst College, and then Yale Law School, where he earned his law degree in 1953.
He went to work for New York City law firms, among them Root, Ballantine, Bushby and Palmer, where one of his first momentous legal roles was settling traffic violations for the driver of senior partner Thomas E. Dewey, former governor of New York (1943-55) and Republican presidential nominee in 1944 and 1948.
Bragdon also met Nancy Horton, then a photo editor for Life magazine, and they eventually married. Both soon were involved in politics. They became leaders of the New Democratic Club, based on the Upper East Side, which attempted to wrest control of the Democratic Party from the corrupt Tammany Hall organization. In 1956 they founded the Lenox Hill Democratic Club, which in addition to fighting corruption advocated women's rights, more parks and better housing, and improved access to the ballot.
Among their patrons and mentors were two anti-Tammany Democrats, former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and former Gov. and U.S. Sen. Herbert Lehman, who stayed connected when Bragdon became the paid director of New York Committee for Democratic Voters in 1957.
In 1958, Bragdon — just five years out of law school — upset a Tammany Hall candidate to win the Democratic nomination for an Upper East Side seat in the New York state Assembly. But he lost the general election to a Republican who benefited from Nelson Rockefeller's first-term victory as governor of New York.
Paul Bragdon stayed out of politics for awhile with the birth of David in 1959, Susan in 1960 and Peter in 1962.
But when New York Mayor Robert F. Wagner Jr. won a third term in 1961 after he broke with Tammany Hall, he brought Bragdon into City Hall, where Bragdon functioned as executive assistant, press secretary, chief legislative representative and liaison with various constituencies.
As the city's legislative representative in Albany, the state capital, Bragdon ran a staff of 12 from a five-room suite at the Ten Eyck Hotel.
His most memorable moment was on Nov. 9, 1965, when power failed in New York, plunging much of the Northeast in a great blackout. Bragdon was one of the few people at City Hall — the mayor was at an uptown function — when the lights went out and he became the voice of the Wagner administration to the world until power was restored hours later.
When Wagner left office in 1966, Bragdon spent a year working for the city council president, who was an advocate for a civilian review board to investigate allegations of abusive policing. There was a police review board, but civilians did not become members until 1986.
Bragdon passed up potential lobbying jobs to go into academic administration in 1967.
Many years later, in 2010, his son David Bragdon resigned as Metro president — he was near his limit of two terms as leader of Portland regional government — to become director of planning and sustainability for New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. He left that job in 2012, but leads a nonprofit there.
NOTE: Adds material; corrects date when Robert F. Wagner Jr. left office as mayor of New York City (it was the first day of 1966).
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