One of the University of Oregon’s most enduring figures passed into history Tuesday morning when former President Dave Frohnmayer died of cancer. He was 74.
The cause of death was announced as prostate cancer. A statement from his family said he died in his sleep after quietly battling the disease for 5½ years.
“We are devastated by his passing but we are grateful that his passing was peaceful,” the statement says.
Plans for a celebration of life are pending. Frohnmayer is survived by his wife, Lynn; sons Mark and Jonathan; daughter Amy; brother John and sister Mira. Two daughters, Kirsten and Katie, and a brother, Phil, died earlier.
Interim UO President Scott Coltrane said the loss was both a personal blow and a sorrow for all those who benefited from Frohnmayer's generosity of time and spirit.
“I am deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dave Frohnmayer,” he said. “Dave was a friend, a former colleague and a valued advisor. I am honored to have witnessed how his profound collaboration and insightful vision built the University of Oregon into the top research university it is today. As a university, state and community leader, he had the ability to bring people together and build successful partnerships. That will be his lasting legacy. My deepest sympathies go out to his family and all who loved him, and there were many.”
As news of Frohnmayer's passing spread, condolences began pouring in from across the state.
"I am heartbroken at the loss of my wonderful and brilliant friend Dave Frohnmayer," said Gov. Kate Brown. "His deep love of Oregon is reflected in a lifetime of leadership and public service. My thoughts and prayers go out to Lynn and the Frohnmayer family at this difficult time."
Other state leaders and historians spoke of the legacy Frohnmayer leaves behind as a true change agent who led both the state and university through good times and bad.
"Oregon has lost a true independent and a great leader with the passing of Dave Frohnmayer. Both in his work as a state leader and at the University of Oregon, Dave showed a tremendous love of his state and his community," said Oregon House Majority Leader Val Hoyle. "Those of us from Lane County know especially well the impact that Dave had on the Eugene area, but his leadership and spirit were transformative for all of Oregon. I’ll miss Dave, and my condolences go out to his family."
A memorial to Frohnmayer, including additional history, tributes and a timeline, is available here.
A former state representative and three-term Oregon attorney general, Frohnmayer spent 15 years at the university’s helm after taking the post in 1994. He retired in 2009 and continued to serve the UO as president emeritus.
The first native Oregonian to lead any large research university, Frohnmayer presided over a period of unprecedented growth and fundraising at the UO. He helped lead the successful Campaign Oregon fund drive that raised more than $700 million and pushed the university to national prominence.
Overall, Frohnmayer helped raise more than $1 billion for the university over a time when state support was shrinking rapidly and private donations were needed to maintain and expand university programs. Both enrollment and campus construction also blossomed under Frohnmayer’s leadership.
Frohnmayer left an indelible mark on the university. Under his watch, some $500 million in construction was completed or started, including Lillis Hall, four student housing projects, the Many Nations Longhouse, seven science facilities and expansions of the College of Education, Schnitzer Museum of Art, Miller Theater Complex and the School of Music. The expansion of Autzen Stadium and construction of Matthew Knight Arena also came during his tenure.
He developed a close friendship with one of the UO’s most generous benefactors, Lorry Lokey. That in turn inspired Lokey, who made a large contribution to the music school project, to ask that the building by named for Frohnmayer’s mother, MarAbel Frohnmayer.
Both his mother and father attended and graduated from the UO, and Frohnmayer said they passed on to him a love of both education and service. He followed in their steps as a scholar, a public servant and an ambassador for the transformative power of higher education.
"My parents instilled in me and my siblings not only a love of literature, music and law, but also a strong public service ethic," Frohnmayer wrote during Campaign Oregon. "I grew up with a real sense that an individual can make a difference, and that if you can, you should."
Following that inspiration, Frohnmayer ran for and was elected to three terms as a state representative from south Eugene. He followed that with three terms as attorney general, serving from 1981 to 1991 and winning six of the seven cases he argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. That record was the best of any state attorney general of the time.
In 1992 he became dean of the UO School of Law and served in that position until becoming interim university president in 1994 and later being appointed as the permanent president. In 2002, the school’s alumni association honored him with the creation of the Frohnmayer Award for Public Service.
And shortly after Frohnmayer’s retirement, the Eugene City Council voted to rename the Autzen footbridge over the Willamette River the Dave and Lynn Frohnmayer Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge, after the former UO president and his wife.
The couple also were active fund-raisers for Fanconi Anemia, a rare disorder that caused the deaths of Kirsten and Katie. They founded the Fanconi Anemia Research Fund and raised millions of dollars to help find a cure for the genetic illness.
But Frohnmayer was determined to keep his own illness private and continue his work for as long as possible.
“Much of Dave’s life was devoted to fighting devastating health crises that enveloped his family,” the family statement says. “These battles were complicated by the intense public attention that inevitably accompanied his lifelong commitment to public service. He was adamant that his own health issues would remain private. Except for the immediate family and Dave’s closest friends, he was able to accomplish this and continue a full public schedule to the end.”
Frohnmayer was born July 9, 1940, in Medford, where he grew up. He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1962, earned a bachelor's degree from Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar in 1964 and then a master's degree in 1971. He received his law degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1967 and later received honorary doctorates from Willamette University and the University of Portland.
He first came to the UO in 1971 and served as a law professor and special assistant to the university president. He received a long list of awards and recognition throughout his career, including the UO's Pioneer Award, the Tom McCall Leadership Award, the Judge Learned Hand Lifetime Achievement Award and the Governors' Gold Award. He also was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts And Sciences and served on many local, state and national public service, civic and philanthropic boards.
—By Greg Bolt, Public Affairs Communications