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Debra Porter ’75

Born in Pasadena, California, as a child Debra possessed unusual capacities: a photographic memory, stunningly rapid reading skill, extraordinary musical ability, and the facility to perceive patterns and perspectives. At 13, she volunteered to help children from troubled homes, foreshadowing a lifelong interest in helping the disadvantaged to lead better lives. Bored with high school, she took the SAT a year early, got a perfect score, and, chose Reed.

It was a good match. Reed nurtured and gave scope to her innovative mind. Her different-drummer creativity flourished. In her thesis, advised by Prof. Allen Neuringer [psychology 1970–2008], she demonstrated that pigeons could tell the difference between the music of Bach and the music of Stravinsky. It was published by a high-tier journal and continues to be cited to this day. She was even interviewed by Canadian Broadcasting on the topic, which she found quite amusing.

At Reed, she formed a close bond with Prof. Judith Massee [dance 1968–98], who trained her to be a first-rate dance accompanist. Debra considered Judy to be the finest teacher she had ever known, and the experience led to Debra’s involvement in the dance world as a composer and choreographer.

Life after Reed was challenging; Debra faced issues of physical and mental health. She was adamant about living as independently as she could. In trying circumstances, she maintained a strong moral compass and a deep commitment to do good in the world, and found fulfillment in living simply and in harmony with the earth.

Over the years, she wrote endlessly about improving education. She imagined and proposed simple, direct social organization that would enable people to share, understand, and support one another. Her strength of will was astonishing, and her creativity never flagged. Even when ill she produced a prolific flow of writing, painting, and music composition. Many of her compositions were performed in community settings organized by herself. Debra perceived the world in her own unique and insightful way, often causing others to consider life afresh. She sought, always, to help and heal.

Among her Reed acquaintance she will be remembered especially by Allen and Martha Neuringer and by musical compatriot John Vergin ’78. She is survived by sisters Kimberly Martin and Laura Porter.

-Contributed by John Vergin ’78

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2018

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