Former President Of UW Dies At 88 -- Known As Key Leader In University's History
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
Charles E. Odegaard saw the University of Washington through its most tumultuous era, one marked by unprecedented growth and increasing national prominence as well as campus unrest and social upheaval.
Nearly two decades after his retirement, Dr. Odegaard is still regarded as one of the university's most charismatic and forward-thinking presidents, a tribute to his leadership and enduring legacy.
"If it is possible to ascribe to a single individual credit for the rise to prominence of this great university, that person would be Charles Odegaard," said current UW President Richard McCormick in a written statement.
Dr. Odegaard died Sunday (Nov. 14) of heart failure. He was 88.
The years of Dr. Odegaard's presidency, 1958 to 1973, were definitive for the UW. They marked the emergence of the university as a major educational and research institution. During that time, the university also underwent a building boom and extensive expansion.
The era also saw the university struggle through unrest and upheaval brought about by the Vietnam War and the changing attitudes of the 1960s. The resulting campus conflicts often found Dr. Odegaard caught in the crossfire between angry, disillusioned students and a community that felt he wasn't tough enough on protesters.
Describing himself as a "Jeffersonian liberal," he once told The Seattle Times, "I am willing to tolerate all freedom of speech, but not clubbing the other fellow as a form of persuasion."
Dr. Odegaard lobbied legislators and community leaders relentlessly for tax money and grants to support his vision for a community of scholars, of everyone working for the good of the community. He was the first to insist on ideas from students on university decision-making.
"He was able to get the Legislature as well as my office to go along with programs he wanted to see," said former Gov. Albert Rosellini.
He worked with faculty members and minority students to implement higher education's first affirmative-action programs. He promoted the UW as the "Harvard of the West," drawing top personnel and funding.
During the campus unrest of the 1960s and early 1970s, he endured a student sit-in at his office. He shut down the UW as a precautionary measure after the riots and killing of four students at Kent State University in May of 1970.
But Seattle historian and former activist Walt Crowley recalls that, compared to the University of California, Berkeley and other strife-torn campuses, the UW "was relatively calm . . . (Dr. Odegaard) refused to let city police on campus. We had our share of bombings and other unrest, but he had it handled by campus police."
"He inspired so much affection and respect from his colleagues," said Brewster Denny, a friend as well as former dean of the UW Graduate School of Public Affairs.
"Regarding the hiring and enrollment of minorities, he'd sit us down and say, `I want to see results.' . . . He saw this not as a legal requirement but as our public responsibility."
Born in Chicago Heights, Ill., he earned a bachelor's degree in history in 1932 at Dartmouth College. He earned master's and doctorate degrees in history at Harvard University in 1933 and 1937, respectively.
He taught at the University of Illinois, then served in the Navy during World War II.
In addition to serving as UW president, he was a professor of higher education and a professor of biomedical history.
During his years at the UW, the student population soared from 16,000 to 34,000. Thirty-five new buildings were constructed. UW Health Sciences schools grew, and graduate programs achieved increased prominence.
After retiring, he wrote about medical education. He was an early advocate of incorporating mind-body concepts into Western medicine. Such ideas, especially on educating physicians in the humanities, found their way into his book, "Dear Doctor: A Personal Letter to a Physician."
"He did most everything he wanted to do in life," said his daughter, Mary Ann Odegaard Quarton of Seattle, a UW lecturer in marketing and international business.
Dr. Odegaard also is survived by a son-in-law, Bruce Quarton of Seattle; four grandchildren; and extended family. His wife of 39 years, Elizabeth Ketchum Odegaard, died in 1980.
A memorial service is scheduled for 2:30 p.m. Monday in Kane Hall at the UW.
Memorial donations may go to the UW Odegaard Undergraduate Library or the Betty Odegaard Fund, c/o Office of Development, Box 351210, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 08195.
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