The University of Oregon is mourning the loss of Hope Hughes Pressman, whose generous spirit benefited seven generations of UO students, professors and members of the faculty and staff as well as all manner of arts and service organizations in Oregon.
Pressman died Friday, June 8, in Eugene. She was 97.
“Hope’s radiant spirit will forever be reflected in all that is good and beautiful about the University of Oregon,” said Michael H. Schill, president and professor of law. “I speak for everyone fortunate to have met her in saying that Hope believed the best, worked for the best and brought out the best in all of us while doing everything in her power to build the university to what we know and love today. Our hearts go out to her family.”
Jill Hartz, executive director of the UO’s Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, said Hope became her touchstone when she arrived on campus in 2008.
“Her strategic advice, her network of influential people from all walks of life, and her passion for the museum, education and the university inspired everyone who had the privilege of knowing her,” Hartz said. “She always had time to let others knows that they were appreciated.”
Pressman’s warm smile and gentle way of moving people to action made her stand out from the moment she arrived on campus as a freshman in 1937, colleagues said. Her lifelong involvement with her alma mater made her one of the UO community’s most cherished members, they said, and her impact as a volunteer and philanthropist in the greater Eugene-Springfield community is impossible to quantify.
After earning her bachelor’s in history at the UO in 1942, Pressman worked for the U.S. Army Air Transport Command during World War II. She married UO classmate Chuck Pressman in 1944, stopping out from the workforce while their three sons were small.
In 1966, she began serving as executive secretary to the Governor’s Planning Council in Oregon. She later returned to the UO to complete her master’s degree in public affairs, cum laude, in 1972.
At that point, her professional career at the UO began in earnest. She was appointed to coordinate the UO’s centenary celebration, working in the Office of the President. She went on to combine her love of art and the UO as a development officer for the President’s Associates and the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, then known simply as the UO art museum.
In 1977, she joined the UO Foundation as director of special programs and later became an associate development officer. At a time when few public universities were pursuing private gifts in a big way, Pressman became indispensable. She exchanged handwritten letters of appreciation and encouragement with thousands of the UO’s alumni and friends over the decades, including notes sent as recently as September 2017 on behalf of the art museum.
In the course of laying the groundwork for the UO’s first official fundraising campaigns, she worked directly with retired state department official Carlton Savage to establish one of the UO’s first endowed chairs, the Carlton and Wilberta Savage Chair in Peace and International Relations.
Hope’s lively intellect made her especially well-suited to advocating for higher education, and her favorite cause was the arts. She was honored with the Governor’s Award for the Arts in 1988, just one year after being named Eugene’s First Citizen.
Her behind-the-scenes effectiveness in quietly helping build today’s university was so significant that UO President Myles Brand approved granting her emeritus status, an honor usually reserved for faculty members, when she retired as associate director of development in 1990. She received two of the UO’s highest honors, the Pioneer Award in 1990 and the Distinguished Service Award in 1998.
In retirement, Pressman chaired the UO art museum’s advisory and fundraising boards and was a member of the Honorary Committee for the museum’s 75th Anniversary Gala in 2009. She regularly attended the museum’s leadership council meetings through winter 2018 as an honorary member, and, with Jordan Schnitzer and Cheryl and Allyn Ford, was honored as a museum benefactor at its May 10 gala, “Transforming Lives: The JSMA at 85.”
Previously, she held leadership roles for such groups as the Oregon Arts Commission, the Portland Art Museum and the Eugene Arts Foundation. She also served on the board of visitors for the UO School of Architecture and Allied Arts, now known as the College of Design, and was an emeritus trustee of the UO Foundation.
Pressman and her husband, who died Oct, 4, 1994, are survived by their sons, Dr. Kent Pressman, a 1969 graduate in biology; Mark Pressman, a 1969 graduate in economics; and Dr. Scott Pressman, a 1974 graduate in general science.