• Translator of indigenous languages

  • Class of '18

    William Cameron Townsend

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

  • Olympic photo finish

  • Class of '53

    Bob McMillen

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William Cameron Townsend '18

As a missionary hoping to empower the indigenous peoples of Latin and Central America, William Cameron Townsend ’18 traveled, and where he traveled he translated.

Townsend believed that if an indigenous population was given the ability to organize themselves through study of the Bible, it would help them to achieve self-esteem and dignity. He eventually was able to establish schools to train translators to become teachers, promoting literacy and enabling a self-sustaining system of education in these small populations. During a brief period of living in the United States, he founded the Summer Institute of Linguistics, a training school where young people learned necessary linguistic skills in order to eventually work with him in Latin and Central America. Over the last 60 years, the SIL has analyzed 1,724 languages and is currently working on 1,053 more. During his lifetime, he lived in Guatemala, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia and translated the New Testament into over 150 languages.

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Alfonso Perez '47

The son of Mexican immigrants, Alfonso Perez ’47 won the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal as an Air Force bombardier in World War II.

What he was proudest of, however, was his 33 years of service to special education students in public schools. As the first Mexican-American to be appointed a high school principal in Los Angeles, Perez, who majored in physical education at Oxy, turned Widney High School into a national model of public education for the handicapped. By the end of his tenure, Widney had been transformed from what Perez called “a holding place” for the disabled to a school that mainstreamed up to a third of its students. The Alfonso B. Perez School for special education students was named in his honor after his 1980 retirement from the Los Angeles Unified School District.

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Bob McMillen '53

With less than 200 meters to go, it looked as if Bob McMillen ’53 had no hope of winning an Olympic medal. Then he started his kick.

Trailing at the back of the pack in the 1,500 meter final at the 1952 Games in Helsinki, McMillen put on a sudden burst of speed on the final turn, surging past leader Werner Lueg of Germany and almost catching Joseph Barthel of Luxembourg. McMillen took the silver in one of the most dramatic finishes in Olympic history, missing the gold by one-tenth of a second.

As an Oxy athlete, McMillen won an NCAA championship in the 1,500 and was a member of a distance relay team that set a new world record. “Bob was probably one of the most fun-loving guys who ever existed,” remembers teammate Phil Schlegel ’53. “But he had a switch in him when he was going to work out or run … and be the most concentrated, focused person.” McMillen is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

  • Two-time Olympic gold medalist

  • Class of '43

    Sammy Lee

  • Poet honored with a postage stamp

  • Class of 1905

    Robinson Jeffers

  • San Francisco County Superior Court judge

  • Class of '64

    Lillian Sing

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Sammy Lee '43

As a boy, Sammy Lee ’43 was once confronted by neighbors who demanded that the Korean boy and his family move out.

He remembers a friend, a German immigrant, telling them, “One day, you’ll be proud the Lees were your neighbors.” Lee, a chemistry major and All-American diver at Oxy, went on to become the first Asian-American man to win an Olympic gold medal on the 10-meter platform, in London in 1948. At age 32, he became the oldest diver to win a gold medal, at the 1952 Olympics. A doctor and ear, nose, and throat specialist for 35 years, Lee also had a distinguished Olympic coaching career--his divers included gold medalist Bob Webster and silver medalist Greg Louganis.

 

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Robinson Jeffers 1905

One of America’s best-selling poets, Robinson Jeffers 1905 was featured on the cover of Time, turned the Greek tragedy Medea into a Broadway hit in 1947, and was honored with a stamp in 1973--11 years after his death.

First published in 1938, The Selected Poetry of Robinson Jeffers was reprinted so many times that Random House lost track of sales. His critical reputation has subsequently declined--a result of his vocal anti-war views and a shrinking audience for narrative poetry in the classical style. Still, “It is hard to see how anyone can read Jeffers’ best poetry and not perceive greatness,” David Rains Wallace wrote in praise of the Stanford University Press’ 2000 edition of his collected poems. “His narrative verse rivals Wordsworth’s or Byron’s. It is electrifying; the skin prickles.”

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Lillian Sing '64

Lillian Sing '64 brought her passion for activism to the San Francisco County Superior Court bench.

The psychology major has always been committed to community service and social work. Five years out of undergraduate study, she and other leaders in the Asian-American community founded Chinese for Affirmative Action to provide equal employment opportunities for the Chinese-American community. She founded the first Chinese-American bilingual preschool in San Francisco over 30 years ago, and in 1981, she became the first Asian-American judge appointed to the San Francisco Superior Court. In 2001, she was commended by the city and county of San Francisco for her pioneering advocacy on behalf of Chinese-Americans. In her over 20 years on the bench of the San Francisco Superior Court, she developed a reputation for evenhandedness and integrity, innovation in the courtroom and encyclopedic knowledge of the law.

  • Bringing about lasting change through philanthropy

  • Class of '75

    Christopher G. Oechsli

  • Wrote U.S. Military Code of Conduct

  • Class of '40

    F. Brooke Nihart

  • America’s first lady of gastronomy

  • Class of '31

    M.F.K. Fisher

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Christopher G. Oechsli '75

Christopher G. Oechsli ’75 has $4 billion he needs to spend by 2020.

As president and CEO of The Atlantic Philanthropies, whose mission is to bring about “lasting changes in the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable people,” Oechsli is responsible for spending the foundation’s endowment and ultimately closing its doors. Earlier in his career, he worked in private law firms in the United States, China, and Taiwan, and in 1985, Oechsli became the first resident visiting law professor from the United States in China, where he taught constitutional and commercial law at the East China Institute of Politics and Law in Shanghai. He graduated from Occidental with bachelor’s degrees in English and Comparative Literature and Asian studies.

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F. Brooke Nihart '40

“I am an American, fighting in the armed forces which guard my country and our way of life.” So begins Article I of the Code of Conduct, written by F. Brooke Nihart ’40 in 1955.

During  the Korean War, concern over brainwashed POWs revealing military secrets led the Marine Corps to devise a formal code of honor for all uniformed personnel. The man chosen to write the new code of conduct was Nihart, the decorated war veteran of World War II and Korea. His words remain largely intact today, with just a few minor revisions. After his graduation from Oxy, he joined the Marine Corps and was awarded the Navy Cross for his actions on the battlefield during the Battle of the Punchbowl in North Korea in 1951. In 1972, Nihart became the deputy director of the Marine Corps museums, writing extensively on military history for journals and books. At Oxy, he was a member of Phi Gamma Delta and competed in baseball, football, swimming, and water polo for the Tigers.

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M.F.K. Fisher '31

A self-described “insatiable reader and scribbler,” M.F.K. Fisher ’31’s desire for the written word was eclipsed only by her hunger for food--all of it, whether animal or vegetable, cooked or raw.

The confluence of these two appetites helped make Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher America’s best-known and prolific food writer, and an icon to gastronomes everywhere. Her writing on the slow, sensual pleasures of the table seemed revolutionary to a buttoned-down, mid-century America. In a career spanning 60 years, Fisher’s prolific output included 15 books of essays, such as How to Cook a Wolf and The Gastronomical Me, novels, hundreds of stories for the New Yorker, as well as an English translation of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s classic book, The Physiology of Taste. Poet W.H. Auden called her “America’s greatest writer.”

  • Maker of Champions

  • Class of 1902

    Dean Cromwell

  • Social media en español

  • Class of '05

    Zaryn Dentzel

  • Universal Studios tour guide makes good

  • Class of '77

    Cheri Steinkellner

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Dean Cromwell 1902

For almost four decades The Dean, as he was affectionately known, inspired hyperbole among American sports writers.

“Sculptor of one of the greatest dynasties in sports history,” Dean Cromwell led USC’s track and field teams to 12 NCAA titles and 34 individual titles from 1909 to 1948. A multi-sport athlete at Oxy  – he competed in track and cycling and played baseball and football – Cromwell’s prowess led the Helms Athletic Foundation to name him Southern California Athlete of the Year in 1901.

Later nicknamed “Maker of Champions,” Cromwell ‘s Trojans teams dominated intercollegiate track and field during his four decades at the helm. He was an assistant coach with Team USA at the 1928, 1932, and 1936 Olympics, and head track coach at the 1948 Games. “He was one of the turn-of-the-century men who made Los Angeles a symbol of growth and accomplishment,” the Los Angeles Times wrote of Cromwell, who died in 1962. “Cromwell caught the imagination by fashioning championship teams at an obscure school….Cromwell made his indelible contribution to the Los Angeles-that-grew with the national acclaim accorded his champions.” Cromwell is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

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Zaryn Dentzel '05

Zaryn Dentzel ’05 combined his passions for organizing people and the Spanish language to create the largest social media network in Spain.

Dentzel double-majored in Spanish literature and diplomacy and world affairs after being drawn to Oxy after sitting in on a DWA class taught by Larry Caldwell. While at Oxy, he participated in the Occidental-at-the-United Nations semester, was involved with student government and created Student Event Services, which sent out notices for parties and campus events via a listserve. Though the service was disbanded by then-President Ted Mitchell, Dentzel credits his interest in networking technology to this experience. After graduation, he went to Spain and founded Tuenti, an invitation-only social network with 14 million users, responsible for 15% of all Spanish Internet traffic. Though Dentzel spends most of his time as CEO interviewing potential hires and networking with venture capitalists, he prefers working with Tuenti’s design teams, remarking, “Thank God I took Spanish at Oxy.”

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Cheri Steinkellner '77

Wacky and funny and smart and fast.

That’s how composer and lyricist Georgia Stitt describes Cheri Steinkellner ’77, the Emmy- and Golden Globe-winning writer and producer of sitcoms (spending seven years with husband Bill behind the bar at "Cheers"), animated fare (co-creating “Teacher’s Pet” for the Disney Channel, which spun off a feature film in 2004), and now musical theater. The Oxy English major, former Universal Studios tour guide, and Groundlings member is in the midst of a second career, having dropped out of the business in the late-’90s to raise her three children. Today, she is fully re-immersed as the co-writer of the musical Princesses, the Tony-nominated musical Sister Act, and two new collaborations with Stitt: Mosaic and Hello! My Baby.

  • The-Knight-Who-Hits-People-With-a-Chicken

  • Class of '62

    Terry Gilliam

  • Where she leads, others will follow

  • Class of '68

    Marsha Evans

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

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Terry Gilliam '62

Head yell leader, fraternity member, political science major: It’s not the background you’d expect for an acclaimed animator, screenwriter, film director, and member of the Monty Python comedy troupe.

Terry Gilliam '62’s real training ground was as editor of and prolific cartoonist for Fang, Oxy’s now-defunct humor magazine. In its pages--and in the stories his fellow Fang staffers and Swan Hall inmates tell--one can see the origins of such visionary films as Time Bandits, Brazil, The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, The Fisher King, and The Cabinet of Doctor Parnassus. “But I don’t encourage anyone to go into filmmaking,” Gilliam told Occidental magazine in 2009. “Spot welding would be better.”

 

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Marsha Evans '68

Just before Commencement, amid anti-war protests, Marsha Evans ’68 announced her post-graduation plan: She was joining the U.S. Navy.

“There was this collective gasp” at the senior women’s lunch, she remembers. “I created an amazing stir.” Evans has created an amazing stir ever since, becoming only the fifth woman to attain the rank of rear admiral. After a 29-year Navy career that included stints as a presidential aide, a White House Fellow, and as commanding officer of the Treasure Island Naval Station in San Francisco, the diplomacy and world affairs major went on to head the Girl Scouts of the USA and serve as president and CEO of the American Red Cross and acting commissioner of the Ladies Professional Golf Association.

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Alphonzo Bell 1895

The son of an early Southern California real estate developer, Alphonzo Bell 1895 originally intended to become a minister but went into the family business when he inherited some land.

With the proceeds from his new subdivision, he built a 200-acre estate in Santa Fe Springs, complete with tennis courts (Bell won a silver medal in men’s doubles at the 1904 Olympics). A 1921 oil strike on the property made Bell a millionaire and an inspiration for Upton Sinclair’s 1927 novel, Oil! He then invested heavily in Westside real estate and developed Bel-Air Estates. Although his 1925 proposal to move Occidental to Bel-Air came to naught, Bell served as chairman of the College’s board from 1938 to 1946.

  • The LAPD’s best homicide detective

  • Class of '49

    Pierce Brooks

  • Brought Presbyterian values to Hollywood

  • Class of '18

    Louis Hadley Evans

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

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Pierce Brooks '49

When asked what his hobbies were, Pierce Brooks ‘49’s answer was short and to the point: “Catching felons.”

At age 41, Brooks already was reputed to be the LAPD’s best homicide detective when he headed the investigation of the kidnapping and killing of a fellow officer in 1963. It became his most famous case, immortalized in Joseph Wambaugh’s best-selling account, The Onion Field (1973), and in the 1979 movie of the same name. Today, though, the Occidental political science major is perhaps best known as the man who pioneered the profiling and tracking of serial killers. Brooks is regarded as the father of the Violent Criminal Apprehension Program, a national database for tracking serial killers that he first proposed in 1957. According to true-crime writer Anne Rule, Brooks “was one of the greatest homicide detectives of them all.”

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Louis Hadley Evans '18

Louis Hadley Evans ’18 originally turned down the job that made his career.

A star athlete and Glee Club president at Oxy, he served in the Navy during World War I. Ordained after the war, Evans led congregations in North Dakota, California, and Pennsylvania before being called to the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1941--a call he initially rejected. Over the next 12 years, he transformed Hollywood into the country’s largest Presbyterian church, inspiring hundreds of young people including Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ. Author, co-founder of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, and summer pastor to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Evans was profiled by Time magazine and named one of “America’s Twelve Outstanding Religious Leaders” by Life.

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Fanny Hagin Mayer '23

The daughter of missionary parents, Fanny Hagin Mayer ’23 spent her formative years in Japan. She returned to the states for high school, but she never forgot Japan and the culture she grew up in.

So when the English major found herself bored in the States after completing her degree at Occidental, she enlisted in the occupation forces as a civilian and returned to Japan in 1947. There, she taught at various universities and was named professor of English literature at Sophia University in Tokyo. All the while, she translated stories. She eventually translated and collaborated on over 40 collections of Japanese folktales. Her magnum opus, entitled Ancient Tales in Modern Japan: An Anthology of Japanese Folk Tales, contains nearly 350 folktales. Of the 350 stories, more than half were translated into English for the first time. Published in 1985, the anthology has become the foundation of Japanese folktale scholarship and remains a cornerstone of the field.

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

  • Protected Earth from rogue asteroids

  • Class of '54

    Eleanor Helin

  • Trailblazer in the federal courts

  • Class of '87

    Jacqueline Nguyen

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George E. Alcorn '62

What’s on the surface of Mercury and other planets?

We’re able to find out, thanks to George E. Alcorn ’62. He created the imaging X-ray spectrometer, a device that helps scientists explore the chemical composition and geologic history of planets millions of miles away. For this achievement, the Oxy physics major and two-sport letterman was presented with NASA’s Inventor of the Year Award. The spectrometer is just one of more than 20 inventions and at least eight domestic and international patents that Alcorn created. Alcorn worked at companies such as IBM before coming to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in 1978, where he has headed the office of commercial programs and served as deputy project manager for space station advanced development.

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Eleanor Helin '54

For more than 30 years, Eleanor Helin ’54 protected Earth from rogue asteroids.

Helin credited Professor Joe Birman with inspiring her to take up the study of geology, which eventually led to her pioneering career as an astronomer searching for near-Earth asteroids. At a time when few women entered the sciences, Helin landed a job at Caltech as custodian for its meteorite collection, which in turn led to her work at the country’s first lunar laboratory. By 1970, she was a participant in the Palomar Observatory’s Planet-Crossing Asteroid Survey, and in 1995 she helped launch JPL’s Near-Earth Asteroid Tracking group. A 1998 inductee into the Women in Science and Technology Hall of Fame, Helin is credited with discovering or co-discovering 872 asteroids and several comets.

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Jacqueline Nguyen '87

Even when she was a federal prosecutor known as the “Smiling Assassin,” Jacqueline Nguyen ’87 worked weekends in her family’s North Hollywood doughnut shop.

It’s the place she and her family rebuilt their lives after fleeing South Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975, and a measure of how far she has come. The Occidental English major is the first Vietnamese-American woman to be appointed to the state judiciary, to serve as a federal judge, and to be appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals. “Judge Nguyen has been a trailblazer,” President Barack Obama ’83 said in announcing the nomination to the Ninth Circuit. “I’m confident she will serve the American people with fairness and integrity.”

  • Captained the USA national rugby team

  • Class of '90

    Dave Hodges

  • No man left behind

  • Class of '45

    Thomas H. Tackaberry

  • Taught generations of aspiring journalists

  • Class of '46

    Ted Tajima

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Dave Hodges '90

Dave Hodges ’90’s original plan was medical school, with football on the side.

Then he switched to political science, thinking about law school. Then he found rugby, or what he calls “the sports thing.” Hodges was capped 54 times playing for the USA Eagles men’s national rugby team, notched 27 games as team captain, and played professional rugby abroad from 1997 until 2005. At age 36, Hodges retired from the Lianelli Scarlets of Wales to pursue a coaching career stateside. In 2007, he was named head coach of the Denver Barbarians (one of America’s oldest rugby clubs) and is currently forwards coach of the Eagles. In 2009, he was named Player of the Decade by Rugby Magazine.

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Thomas H. Tackaberry '45

Thomas H. Tackaberry '45 never backed down when servicemen were under fire.

It was Sept. 9, 1952, and in the Chorwon province in North Korea, Captain Tackaberry had spotted a United Nations patrol that had become disorganized after its commander was killed in action. Despite the barrage of heavy automatic weapon fire, Tackaberry oversaw the withdrawal of the patrol and remained behind until he was sure that the men were safe. His heroic actions earned him his first Distinguished Service Cross, the second-highest military award granted for “extreme gallantry and risk of life.” Tackaberry went on to receive two more Distinguished Service Crosses for leading defensive operations and extracting soldiers while under heavy assault in Vietnam, where he served as commanding officer of the 2nd Airborne Battalion and later the commanding officer of the 196th Infantry Brigade. After his active duty abroad, Tackaberry served as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg from 1974 to 1976 and then as commanding general of the XVIII Airborne Corps at Fort Bragg from 1979 until his retirement in 1981. The Los Angeles native is among the top 50 most decorated U.S military personnel and is remembered for his bravery on the ground and in the air.

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Ted Tajima '46

Ted Tajima ’46’s enthusiasm for teaching belied the difficulties in his past.

Because they were of Japanese descent, Tajima’s sister and parents were interned during WWII, and Tajima’s hopes of becoming a journalist were dashed by racism. Still, “Mr. T” taught journalism to others without a trace of bitterness. During his tenure at Alhambra High School, which began in 1946, the school’s weekly student newspaper earned 26 All-American awards from the National Scholastic Press Assn., and Tajima was named Outstanding Journalism Teacher of the Year by the California Newspaper Publishers Assn. in 1969. Despite his success, the early days of racism haunted Tajima. “Our experience has been to prove we’re American, and I’m still trying to prove it,” he said of himself and his sister in 2005.

  • Helped found one of the world’s first gay rights organizations

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

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James “John” Gruber '53

James “John” Gruber ’53 was an Oxy sophomore when he and boyfriend Konrad Stevens joined the 6-month-old Society of Fools.

At Gruber’s suggestion, the group changed its name to the Mattachine Society--known today as the first modern gay-rights organization. “All of us had known a whole lifetime of not talking, or repression. Just the freedom to open up … really, that’s what it was all about,” said Gruber, an ex-Marine studying English on the G.I. Bill. After working in radio and founding a motorcycle club, Gruber fell in love with teaching and enjoyed a long career as a high school and college teacher. At his death in 2011, he was the last surviving original member of the Mattachine Society.

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Bill Davis '80

Bill Davis '80 was burned in effigy during his first job.

Not a promising beginning for the young manager of KALX radio, the chaotic Berkeley public radio station where a DJ once overdosed while on the air. But the Oxy English major attracted the attention of National Public Radio executives during his 10-year stint at WUNC in Chapel Hill, N.C., which he turned into one of NPR’s most popular member stations. Davis has spent the last decade as president of Southern California Public Radio, the parent company of KPCC, the public radio station once based at Pasadena City College. KPCC’s audience has tripled in size during his tenure, and once again he heads one of the country’s most-listened-to public radio outlets--one that has won more than 230 regional and national journalism awards.

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Ben Coombs '59

Ben Coombs ’59 went broke the first time he ventured into financial planning.

“We knew how to spell financial planning, but nobody knew how to do it,” says Coombs, today a much-honored pioneer who helped define a field that has more than 55,000 certified practitioners. After following his father into insurance sales, the psychology major became a member of the first graduating class to receive certification from the College of Financial Planning in 1973. By 1987, he was advising high-level corporate executives and had founded Petra Financial, specializing in asset management. Petra Financial quickly became a household name for professionals in the field. Appointed president of the Institute of Certified Financial Planners (today’s Financial Planning Association) in 1985, Coombs created a residency program to encourage and support younger financial planners. He was honored with the FPA’s P. Kemp Fain Jr. Award for service to the profession in 2005.

  • Saved 8 million acres of desert

  • Class of '35

    Harriett Allen

  • At ground zero of homeland security

  • Class of '91

    Richard Falkenrath

  • Loyola Marymount’s first lay president

  • Class of '73

    David W. Burcham

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Harriett Allen '35

As a child, Harriet Allen ’35 and her family would often take trips into the desert. This early experience would lead to a lifelong love of the desert and to her extraordinary accomplishments in the field of desert conservation.

In 1954, the biology major was a founding member of the Desert Protective Council, created to protect expanses of land in California from mining. For eight years, she lobbied for the protection of several regional deserts, and her efforts were essential to the passage of the California Desert Protection Act. When then-President Clinton signed the bill in 1994, the Act protected more than 8 million acres of land from developers. Well-known parks including Joshua Tree National Monument, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Torrey Pines National State Reserve can all credit their preservation to Harriet Allen. She continued to take leadership positions in the Desert Protective Council and the Sierra Club and mentored generations of desert activists.

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Richard Falkenrath '91

As a young Harvard professor with expertise in the then-esoteric field of domestic preparedness for terrorism, Richard Falkenrath ’91 opposed the idea of a federal homeland security agency.

But after 9/11, the economics and diplomacy and world affairs major found himself serving as deputy homeland security adviser in the White House, developing and coordinating homeland security policy for the Bush administration. “I never imagined I’d be doing what I’m doing today,” said Falkenrath, who also served as deputy commissioner for counterterrorism for the New York Police Department before going into private consulting. “But these guys are coming at us, and I suspect they’ll continue to do so for the rest of my life.”

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David W. Burcham '73

David W. Burcham ’73 broke a century of Jesuit tradition in 2010 when he became Loyola Marymount University’s first lay president.

A political science major at Oxy, Burcham graduated first in his class from Loyola Law School and clerked for the chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, and for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White. He joined the Loyola Law School faculty in 1991 and was appointed dean in 2000. He has no qualms about his groundbreaking role: “The Jesuits have expressed willingness to partner and work with me to preserve and enhance our Catholic and Ignatian identity, as well as to advance our mission. I am committed to that.”