UW President Emeritus Charles Odegaard

By Tom Griffin

In May of 1973, an unusual notice appeared in the pages of the Daily:

"Charles Odegaard has lived through 15 years of riot, famine, pestilence, the Legislature, the faculty, budget cuts, lawsuits and swarms of uppity students. Let's do something to make it up to him," it read.

The notice was a call for students to attend a retirement party in the new "Central Plaza" (the irreverent "Red Square" was already becoming popular with everyone but administrators). The guest of honor: Charles E. Odegaard, president of the University of Washington, who was stepping down after 15 years in office.

On that day, 5,000 students joined faculty and staff in launching balloons, eating ice cream cones and applauding Odegaard for his service—a remarkable gesture in an era where some presidents were afraid to cross their campuses without a police escort.

"He couldn't quite believe it. After all those years of student protests, all those people showed up. He just loved it," recalls his daughter, Mary Ann Odegaard Quarton.

During the ceremonies, the ASUW president announced that the new undergraduate library had been named in Odegaard's honor. Students also presented the President with a purple and gold sweatshirt emblazoned with a paraphrase of Louis XIV. It read "L'université c'est moi," but Odegaard quickly dismissed the notion that he was the University. "This thing on my back just isn't true—the University is us," he said.

And while that is true—the University is a community of scholars, each contributing to the world of learning and knowledge—Odegaard was without a doubt the number one scholar, the master builder of what is one of the premier research universities in the nation and the world.

Of his years in office, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer wrote, "It can be said without qualification that they have been the ... years in which the UW was transformed from just another good university to a great one."

Adds President Richard L. McCormick, "Thanks to Charles Odegaard, the University of Washington is what it is today. Virtually all marks of distinction the UW achieved came during his reign. Every president who follows him will be in his debt. He showed us what was possible."

UW President Emeritus Charles Odegaard died Nov. 14, 1999 of heart failure after several years of failing health. He was 88.

Memorial gifts can be made to the Charles Odegaard Undergraduate Library or the Betty Odegaard Fund. Contact the Office of Development, University of Washington, Box 351210, Seattle, WA 98195-1210; phone 1-877-UW-GIFTS;
e-mail gifts@u.washington.edu.

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