Debra Friedman remembered as fierce professional, loving mom

Hundreds attend campus memorial for former UW Tacoma chancellor who died Jan. 26 after battling cancer

Staff writerFebruary 15, 2014 

Those who knew Debra Friedman professionally knew a fierce, no-nonsense chancellor who had an unfaltering vision for the direction of the University of Washington Tacoma.

Those who knew her personally say that drive was eclipsed by compassion, a motherly instinct and a desire to see others succeed.

Both sides of Friedman were shared Saturday as hundreds of friends, family, students and professional acquaintances joined to remember a woman who in her short time at the school left a lasting legacy.

“As the chapters are written about this university, her’s will be the first,” said UW President Michael Young.

Friedman, 58, died Jan. 26 after a short battle with lung cancer.

Her death took many by surprise. A private woman, Friedman didn’t share she was sick. She even wrestled with telling her daughter after her September diagnosis. She preferred everyone focus on the school, not her illness, daughter Eliana Hechter said.

“There is no better way to honor her legacy than to continue it,” Hechter told the almost capacity crowd at William W. Philip Hall on the university campus.

“My mother’s love survives in me, and I know her love survives in the University of Washington Tacoma,” she said. “Let her love reside in you.”

Saturday’s ceremony and reception were cathartic for attendees. They shared stories of the feisty chancellor they said could be intimidating at first, but who had a soft side.

Col. Charles Hodges Jr., base commander at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, teased he was happy to learn he wasn’t the only one Friedman intimidated. The two talked monthly about ways to connect veterans, soldiers and their families with the university. That included providing guidance counselors for those leaving the military and offering courses and programs to meet their needs.

Friedman’s ability to understand the military lifestyle and how the base fit in with the larger community was rare a find, Hodges said.

“She really was an inspiration to me personally,” he said.

Friedman earned her graduate degrees from UW, a master’s and doctorate in sociology, and received an excellence in teaching award. She was an associate dean and associate provost at the Seattle campus and served as vice president at Arizona State University’s downtown Phoenix campus.

She returned to UW and came to the Tacoma campus in 2011.

Friend Gail Weyerhaeuser spoke of a woman not everyone got to see.

Friedman would do anything for her daughter and was proud of her child’s academic accomplishments. Hechter graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle. Hechter graduated in 2006 as a Rhodes Scholar and went on to graduate from Oxford University.

Friedman also was passionate about seeing mothers succeed academically and professionally, Weyerhaeuser said.

“She understood the challenge of trying to do it all,” she said.

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, a member of the second graduating class from UW Tacoma, said Friedman knew that for the university to succeed it needed to connect with the community.

“She knew what this campus should and could be,” McCarthy said. “This university has lifted the community as a whole – the city of Tacoma, but also really Pierce County.”

Although at the school just shy of three years, the programs Friedman put in place and the growth she spurred will be pivotal for the school’s continued success and expansion, said good friend and UW Provost Ana Mari Cauce.

“Her life was too short. Her time here at University of Washington Tacoma was too short,” Cauce said. “But then again, a year of Debra was like a decade with anybody else.”

Brynn Grimley: 253-597-8467

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