• America’s first lady of gastronomy

  • Class of '31

    M.F.K. Fisher

  • Lead keyboardist for Miles Davis

  • Class of '81

    Adam Holzman

  • Pioneered the field of financial planning

  • Class of '59

    Ben Coombs

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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.”

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Adam Holzman '81

Named by Keyboard magazine as one of the Top 10 Best Keyboardists in the World, Adam Holzman ’81 has been praised by the New York Times and the Washington Post for his “killer grooves.”

But the highlight of the philosophy major’s long musical career are the years he spent touring with Miles Davis, the legendary jazz musician. Davis, known for his high turnover rate for band members, kept Holzman on for five years and eventually promoted him to musical director of the band in 1988. Holzman and his keyboard performed on Davis’ Grammy award-winning album, “Tutu,” and he performed with Davis in over 200 live concerts. On working with Davis, he says “all of a sudden I had a better idea of how to squeeze a lot more out of a melody.” He currently performs all over the world with his critically acclaimed jazz-rock band, Brave New World.

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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.

  • The James Dean of disability studies

  • Class of '68

    Paul Longmore

  • Earned her wings as a WASP

  • Class of '33

    Lauretta (Beaty) Foy

  • World record pole vaulter

  • Class of '58

    Bob Gutowski

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Paul Longmore '68

Punching a keyboard with a pen he held in his mouth, it took historian Paul Longmore ’68 M’71 10 years to write his first book.

Then he burned it--a protest against federal policies that discouraged disabled professionals from working. With his arms paralyzed and spine curved by a childhood bout with polio, “In every school and every job, I’ve been the first with a major disability,” he said. A specialist in early American history and the history of people with disabilities, the Oxy history major was a pioneer in the field of disability studies at San Francisco State, winning major prizes for his advocacy and teaching. “I once heard Paul introduced as the James Dean of disability studies,” one colleague said. “That captures the combination of intellectual, rebel, and down-to-earth man he was.”

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Lauretta (Beaty) Foy '33

Although she was a stand-in for movie stars such as Loretta Young, English major Lauretta (Beaty) Foy ’33 wasn’t just another pretty face.

When World War II broke out, she became a test pilot for the Women’s Air Force Service Pilots (WASPs), flying fighter planes and bombers destined for combat. She didn’t give up her wings after the war ended. In 1947, Foy won the Powder Puff Derby, an annual coast-to-coast air race. She cut back on flying only after her husband, Bob Foy, died in a plane crash in 1950. But in the early 1960s she became a certified helicopter pilot and instructor. Her teaching paid an unexpected dividend: In 1993, when raging fires threatened her hilltop home in the Santa Monica Mountains, a former student swooped in via helicopter and rescued Foy.

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Bob Gutowski '58

Bob Gutowski ’58 came to Oxy as a basketball player, but legendary track & field coach Payton Jordan had other ideas.

With Gutowski’s natural athleticism, Jordan reasoned, he could learn how to be a pole vaulter. Jordan’s hunch paid off, with Gutowski winning a silver medal at the 1956 Olympics, two consecutive NCAA titles in 1956 and 1957, and a new world record of 15’ 8¼” at an Oxy-Stanford track meet in 1957. Gutowski’s all-time best, a mark of 15’ 9¾” set later that year, remains the greatest height ever achieved on a steel pole, although it was never officially recognized as a record because of a technical violation – the pole passed underneath the crossbar. The North American Athlete of the Year in 1957, Gutowski was an all-rounder who placed in the Nationals in the long jump and triple jump, and was an NAIA champion in the triple jump. Gutowski is an inaugural member of the Occidental College Athletic Hall of Fame, inducted with the first class of 2012.

  • Supervises San Francisco

  • Class of '00

    Carmen Chu

  • Runs a Nobel Prize factory

  • Class of '53

    Edward Schlag

  • Created a national model for special education

  • Class of '47

    Alfonso Perez

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Carmen Chu '00

Carmen Chu ’00’s career as an elected official began with a tap on the shoulder in 2007.

She was crunching numbers in her cubicle in San Francisco City Hall, where she worked as deputy budget director, when Mayor Gavin Newsom stopped by. “Have you ever considered serving in public office?” he asked. Newsom offered Chu the District 4 supervisor position, and in February 2013 Chu completed her second full term on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. She is fully engaged in the responsibilities and rewards of elected office. “You work on a whole host of issues all year round, and you meet so many interesting people along the way,” the public policy major says. She is currently the elected Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee for the city of San Francisco.

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Edward Schlag '53

Some of the brightest minds in science have worked under Oxy chemistry major Edward Schlag ’53.

They include three Nobel laureates and more than two dozen recipients of prestigious Alexander von Humboldt research fellowships. A physical chemistry professor at Munich Technical University, Schlag is a research pioneer in chemical spectroscopy via tunable lasers. Many of his students honored Schlag at a symposium at the Germany Embassy in Washington, D.C. in 2001, and he was recognized again at the 2009 national meeting of the American Chemical Society for his research in ZEKE spectroscopy. Much sought after as a lecturer, Schlag has taught in universities around the world, including Caltech, Yale, and Cambridge.

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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.

  • Four-time Olympic fencer

  • Class of '45

    Maxine McMasters Mitchell

  • First female mayor of Bloomington, Ind.

  • Class of '55

    Tomilea Radosevich Allison

  • Submarine sailor

  • Class of '50

    Steven A. White

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Maxine McMasters Mitchell '45

“If you’re winning, don’t change your tactics,” Maxine McMasters Mitchell ’45 used to say.

She knew what she was talking about: The physical education major represented the United States in four Olympics (’52, ’56, ’60, ’68)–the longest Olympic career of any Oxy athlete. Although her highest Olympic finish was fourth, Mitchell won four titles in fencing at major championships, including an individual first in the 1955 Pan American Games and a foil-team first at the 1967 Pan Am Games. Besides her athletic prowess, she was known for her sense of humor. After her first gender-verification test at the 1968 Olympics, Mitchell quipped to Sports Illustrated: “I have four children and eight grandchildren. I wondered what I was going to tell them. ‘Call me grandpa?’”

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Tomilea Radosevich Allison '55

Tomilea Radosevich Allison '55 is remembered as the mayor who brought Bloomington into the 21st century as a thriving city.

The sociology major emphasized the importance of private and public partnerships for economic health, and she took initiatives to bring in investors and businesses. During her three terms, she procured $57 million in investments for the city, creating thousands of jobs and revitalizing Bloomington’s downtown. She also emphasized the role of the city in environmental activism, taking initiatives to improve city-wide recycling services and encouraging responsible hazardous waste disposal. In 2006, she was inducted into the Monroe County Hall of Fame, and she was named “Sagamore of the Wabash” by then-Gov. Evan Bayh, a title given for distinguished service to the state. She is currently a peace activist.

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Steven A. White '50

Steven A. White '50 is a man of many firsts.

He was aboard the USS Nautilus, the first nuclear-powered submarine, when it became the first craft to reach the North Pole in 1958. For this achievement, he, the crew, and the ship were awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, the first award ever given for peacetime operations. He was also aboard the USS Ethan Allen when it conducted the first and only complete test of a submarine launching a strategic missile with a warhead. In his later career, he was promoted to admiral in 1983 and worked as the chief of Navy material, where he was in charge of the Navy’s $30-billion annual procurement budget. After retirement from the military, White went to work for the Tennessee Valley Authority, where he reformed and restructured the federal government’s largest regional planning agency with the intention of reopening its closed power plants, a goal he eventually accomplished before his retirement.

  • From “Clear Skies Ahead” to “It’s All Inside”

  • Class of '84

    Janet Dhillon

  • Remaking public radio in Los Angeles

  • Class of '80

    Bill Davis

  • Universal Studios tour guide makes good

  • Class of '77

    Cheri Steinkellner

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Janet Dhillon '84

Corporate legal whiz Janet Dhillon ’84 is the executive vice president, general counsel, and secretary for J.C. Penney, one of the country’s oldest department store chains.

Dhillon came to the company after serving as the top lawyer and chief compliance officer for Phoenix-based US Airways. In 2008, while at the airline, Dhillon was named one of the 10 most influential lawyers in Arizona by AZ Business magazine. After graduating magna cum laude with a degree in history from Oxy, Dhillon stormed UCLA Law School, graduating first in her class. She honed her legal chops at New York City-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, one of the country’s most powerful law firms.

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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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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.

  • Colombian conservationist and educator

  • Class of '70

    Jorge Orejuela

  • Advisor to Nixon, he outpolled Reagan

  • Class of '47

    Robert Finch

  • Takes lunch with Hollywood A-listers

  • Class of '81

    Lorrie Bartlett

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Jorge Orejuela '70

Orejuela is Colombia’s leading conservation expert. Trained as an ornithologist, he has dedicated three decades to conservation education, protected-area management, and sustainable-development research in an effort to preserve Colombia’s biodiversity.

The biology major is currently a professor of environmental sciences at Colombia’s Universidad Autónoma de Occidente. Orejuela has established several national parks and nature reserves, and is the founder and director of the Cali Botanical Garden, which is a leading research center containing important flora ecosystems. He is the founder of Colombia’s leading private conservation agency, the Environmental Area of the Fundación para la Educación Superior. His own field research was sponsored by the World Wildlife Fund for 10 years. In 2007, he received the National Geographic Society Buffet Award for Leadership in Latin American Conservation for his outstanding leadership in the field and his role as a conservation advocate and educator.

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Robert Finch '47

When Robert Finch ’47 was elected California’s 38th lieutenant governor in 1966, he received 300,000 more votes than Ronald Reagan, who was elected governor.

It all began at Oxy, where Finch, a political science major, served as student body president and organized Young Republican clubs on a dozen local college campuses. As a congressional aide in Washington, he befriended freshman Rep. Richard Nixon; he went on to manage Nixon’s 1960 and 1968 presidential campaigns. Finch turned down Nixon’s 1968 offer to be his vice presidential running mate, but accepted an appointment as U.S. secretary for Health, Education and Welfare. He later served the president as a senior adviser. In 1973, Finch returned to California to practice law, but remained involved in Republican politics until his death in 1995.

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Lorrie Bartlett '81

Lorrie Bartlett ’81 learned long ago not to take no for an answer.

The first black agent--male or female--to head the talent department of a talent and literary agency, Bartlett was just a kid when her father--then mayor of the L.A. suburb of Monrovia--convinced Chrysler CEO Lee Iacocca not to pull the company’s dealerships out of the small Los Angeles suburb. As senior talent agent at Hollywood mega-agency International Creative Management, the diplomacy and world affairs major represents A-list actors such as Zoe Saldana (Avatar, Colombiana) and Josh Duhamel (Transformers). She began her career at the William Morris Agency (now WME), and was snapped up by the Gersh Agency, where she represented actors and musicians such as Adam Horovitz of the Beastie Boys.

  • Knows how to juggle more than work and social life.

  • Class of '09

    Stephen Bent

  • From 1600 Campus Road to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue

  • Class of '83

    Barack Obama

  • Helped shape the Aloha State

  • Class of '41

    Herbert Cornuelle

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Stephen Bent '09

What began as a childhood hobby and morphed into a teenage obsession has become a dream come true.

Bent first began toying with juggling as a child, and, after seeing a performance by the neo-vaudevillian juggling troupe the Flying Karamazov Brothers at 13, his interest became a passion. He wrote a letter to founding Karamazov member Howard Jay Patterson, asking how he could become a member of the group. Patterson replied with a list that included continuing to study the trombone, and, in later correspondence, to learn how to sing. Bent went on to major in music with an emphasis in trombone, joined the Oxy Glee Club and created his own a cappella group. He delved into the juggling world, practicing three to four hours a day as well as performing at school and other events. When Patterson retired, he let Bent know there was an opening in the Karamazovs. Even though he was a senior at Oxy, Bent joined the juggling troupe, which lead to “the craziest year of my life (so far).” According to Patterson, “he’s the future of the group.” Patterson may have been onto something: Bent is now the musical director of the group and has also served as an arranger, composer, and vocal coach.

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Barack Obama '83

President Barack Obama ’83 still complains about the “B” politics professor Roger Boesche gave him--but is quick to add that it was his favorite college class.

Although Obama transferred to Columbia at the end of his sophomore year, Occidental is, in his own words, where he grew up and where he began to notice a world beyond himself. “Barack was funny, smart, thoughtful, and well-liked,” remembers classmate Phil Boerner. It was at Occidental that Obama made his first political speech, during a campus protest against South Africa’s apartheid regime. “Oxy nurtured his transformation,” the Boston Globe said. “By the end of his sophomore year, he was on his way to becoming a self-assured, purpose-driven scholar plotting a career in public service.”

 

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Herbert Cornuelle '41

Ohio native and Oxy commerce and finance major Herbert Cornuelle ’41 didn’t get his first glimpse of Hawaii until 1942, when he was a young U.S. Navy ensign.

Eleven years later, he took a position as vice president of the Hawaiian Pineapple Co.--and just five years later was named president of the company still known the world over as Dole. After a detour to the mainland in 1963 to become executive vice president and later president of United Fruit , Cornuelle found his way back to the Aloha State, where he worked in real estate development and related activities for the rest of his career.

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

  • Class of '53

    James “John” Gruber

  • No man left behind

  • Class of '45

    Thomas H. Tackaberry

  • NASA’s Inventor of the Year in 1984

  • Class of '62

    George E. Alcorn

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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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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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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.

  • The first prince of Bel-Air

  • Class of 1895

    Alphonzo Bell

  • Japanese folktale expert

  • Class of '23

    Fanny Hagin Mayer

  • First female military chaplain

  • Class of '64

    Dianna Pohlman Bell

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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.

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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.

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Dianna Pohlman Bell '64

When the Rev. Lt. Dianna Pohlman Bell ’64 was assigned to the Orlando Naval Training Center in 1973, she set a new precedent for women in the military’s religious services.

“But I had never been the housewife type,” she says. Shortly after her graduation from Occidental, the music major found that her love of God was quickly overshadowing her love of the French horn. She followed her sense of duty to the U.S. Navy, which had courted her for service even before her ordination. Her first assignment was counseling the newest recruits at the base, providing them with the crucial support and moral guidance they needed. Since 1973, more than150 women have been admitted to the Naval Chaplain Corps; they owe a debt of gratitude to Pohlman Bell, who blazed the trail.

  • At ground zero of homeland security

  • Class of '91

    Richard Falkenrath

  • Outspoken policymaker

  • Class of '59

    Velma Montoya Thompson

  • Popularized the anthem of the Civil Rights Movement

  • Class of '49

    Guy Carawan

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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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Velma Montoya Thompson '59

Velma Montoya Thompson ’59 is not afraid to speak her mind

As a member of the University of California Board of Regents in 1997, Thompson defied then-Gov. Pete Wilson by declining to vote against health benefits for partners of gay employees. The first to graduate from Occidental with a degree in diplomacy and world affairs, Montoya was a Marshall scholar who went on to receive a Ph.D. in economics from UCLA—one of the first Mexican-American women to do so. She worked at the RAND Corp. as an economist and served in the Reagan and Bush administrations as a member of the White House Coordinating Council on Women and the Occupational Safety and Health Review Commission. She returned to her native California and taught at UCLA, Pepperdine University, and other colleges and universities.

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Guy Carawan '49

The year was 1960, and the song was “We Shall Overcome.” Guy Carawan ’49 sang, and the rest of the country united under its message.

At the time, singing at a conference held by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the mathematics major would have no idea that his organization’s favorite folk song would become the song that the American Civil Rights Movement would rally around. Then working at the Highlander Folk School in Tennessee, Carawan and his colleagues arranged the lyrics and music of “We Shall Overcome,” which has its roots in gospel and slavery and was already a popular protest song. When he took over as musical director at Highlander, he was invited to North Carolina for the meeting that would launch “We Shall Overcome” into popularity. The students attending the conference took the lyrics and message of “We Shall Overcome” back to their communities, where it spread until it was heard all over the world. A lifetime lover of folk music, Carawan would spend the rest of his time at Highlander performing for and inspiring civil rights activists around the country.