Freshly minted President Paul Bragdon walks with twelve-year-old son David after inauguration on March 11, 1972.
Lawyer, Marine Corps veteran, and former press secretary, Bragdon came to Reed amid an atmosphere of subdued crisis. The college’s finances were in perilous condition, the faculty was divided, and the nation was being ripped apart by the war in Vietnam.
Nancy Bragdon: Paul and I got off a train in August of 1971 and came to see the house in Eastmoreland that we had bought sight unseen on the recommendation of Reed’s chairman, John Gray. John wanted us to live fairly close to campus. Paul used to joke, “But not a stone’s throw away.” . . . The house was just a mess. The doors were all boarded up except for a side door. We came inside and went into the garage. Somebody had spray painted “Fuck you” on the inside of the garage door. Later, when we went to get permits for the remodeling, the immediate neighbors objected violently. One neighbor went to the city council and said that we were turning the house into a pleasure palace to entertain people from Reed College.
Paul Bragdon: Before I came to Portland I had read Burton Clark’s book The Distinctive College, which addressed the history of Reed as well the histories of Antioch and Swarthmore up until 1960. It was a cautionary tale at best, describing Reed’s financial difficulties through the years, the divisions in the college, and the fact that there had been lots of acting and interim presidents. After stepping into the Reed presidency I reread the book and thought to myself, “My goodness, whatever made me think that I should be so arrogant to believe that I could be successful in this context?”
Dorothy Davenhill Hirsch ’52: I called him “the Sphinx” when I was serving as president of the alumni association. Paul Bragdon was a person who did not speak his mind. He listened. I just liked him.
Arthur Leigh [econ 1945–88]: Overall, Paul Bragdon’s administration was one of greater tranquility and greater progress than Reed had known in decades. But there was opposition to Paul, people who didn’t like him, though most of us did.
Richard Jones [history 1941–86]: We were concerned that if we didn’t go along with the things Bragdon wanted, if we opposed him, he was going to resign probably, and that would cause all the trustees to resign. I did not think that Paul Bragdon was an educator, nor that he really understood, or was committed to, the nature of the college.
Paul Bragdon: From the day I arrived there was talk of an “old” Reed and a “new” Reed. There was always a suspicion that somebody wanted to change something that was a distinct jewel into something that was perhaps another institution. I had gone to Amherst College as an undergraduate, and some people would say “He wants to turn Reed into another Amherst.” Well, I didn’t, but the fact was that if I had wanted to, I couldn’t have done it. Each institution has its own history, its own culture, and its own traditions. You cannot impose things upon it or even nurse things in a certain direction.
Lena Lencek [Russian 1977–]: Paul Bragdon snatched Reed from the brink of disaster and put it on a solid footing. He introduced a system of accountability that stood the college in good stead going forward, and he reestablished its credibility with the East Coast establishment and with funding sources. He really performed a Herculean task in moving Reed out of one league into another. He was a real mensch.