Longest-serving Reed College president dies

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Aug. 9, 2021 10:07 p.m.

Paul Bragdon served as Reed’s president for 17 years

Former Reed College President Paul Errol Bragdon died Saturday in Portland. He was 94 years old.

Bragdon was Reed’s longest-serving president, working at the private college for 17 years beginning in 1971. In that time span, Bragdon helped grow Reed’s endowment from $4.4 million to more than $60 million.


“When Bragdon arrived as Reed president in 1971, the college was teetering near the edge of insolvency,” Reed College said in a statement. “Under his leadership, the college stabilized its finances, rejuvenated the academic program, dramatically expanded support for students outside the classroom, and became a leader in the use of technology in the liberal arts.”

Paul Bragdon, center, sits on the Reed College campus.

Paul Bragdon, center, sits on the Reed College campus.

Reed College

Reed added: “In many ways, he is the reason Reed has remained one of the very best liberal arts colleges in the country. Reed and Reedies owe Paul Bragdon an enormous debt of gratitude. He will be greatly missed.”


After leaving Reed, Bragdon served as former Oregon Gov. Neil Goldschmidt’s higher education advisor in the late 1980s. He also led the Oregon Graduate Institute of Science and Technology, which ultimately merged with Oregon Health & Science University. In 2003, he came out of retirement to work as Lewis & Clark College’s interim president for a year.

Bragdon was born in Portland, Maine, on April 19, 1927.

Before his work in higher education, he was an active part of reforming the Democratic Party in New York City during the 1950s and 60s, according to family members.

Bragdon and his wife Nancy helped found the Lenox Hill Democratic Club, garnering support and mentorship from the likes of former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and former New York Gov. Herbert Lehman.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, far left, sits at a table with Paul Bragdon, far right.

Former First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, far left, sits at a table with Paul Bragdon, far right.

Family of Paul Bragdon

Bragdon eventually served in a variety of roles in the 1960s at New York City Hall, including as press secretary for former Mayor Robert Wagner Jr.

Bragdon began working in higher education in the late 1960s, serving as New York University’s vice president of public affairs in 1968, where he served until he was recruited to work at Reed.

Bragdon is survived by his wife, Nancy, children David, Susan and Peter, and his five grandchildren.


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The History Of Reed College

In 1911, a small liberal arts college was launched in Portland, Oregon with its sole mission to promote the life of the mind. Founded by a prominent minister and brought to life by a visionary young upstart president, Reed College soon became a well-regarded institution of higher learning nationally but also something of a lightning rod for criticism locally. This is the history of a college confronting wide-ranging public opinion even as it strives to live up to its founders’ ideals.