Passings: Mary Dell Pritzlaff, 1929-2015

Politics, higher education, arts, cancer research — the former CMC Trustee devoted her energies to a wide range of issues, social causes

Mary Pritzlaff and husband John C. Pritzlaff Jr.

Longtime CMC trustee and political activist Mary Dell Olin Pritzlaff P’76, whose family's philanthropy has touched multiple aspects of CMC’s growth and mission, passed away in July in Montecito. She was 85.

Mrs. Pritzlaff served as a member of the CMC Board of Trustees from 1980 until 1998: her son John Pritzlaff III ’76 joined the Board in the year his mother stepped down, thus continuing a Pritzlaff presence on CMC’s Board for 35 years.

Mrs. Pritzlaff’s board tenure spanned a period of expansion and transition for the College, including: the first graduating female students or “pioneers” in 1980; the renaming of Claremont Men’s College as Claremont McKenna College in 1981; and the College’s ongoing rise to prominence on the national higher education scene.

But Mrs. Pritzlaff's commitments to service also extended far beyond the CMC campus and included many educational, cultural, and scientific organizations as well as the world of politics.

A wide-ranging commitment to service

Born August 15, 1929, in Alton, Illinois, Mary Dell Olin was a daughter of Ann and Spencer Truman Olin, an executive of the Olin Corporation. A graduate of Briarcliff College, she met young aspiring politician John C. Pritzlaff Jr. in 1948. Pritzlaff was a Princeton graduate who joined his family's Milwaukee-based hardware business before becoming involved in Wisconsin politics as the state treasurer of the Republican Party.

The couple (see photo, above) married in 1951 and left Wisconsin to settle in Arizona in 1958.

During their 54-year marriage, Mrs. Pritzlaff supported her husband in his successful bids for both the Arizona House of Representatives and Senate and in his diplomatic role as Ambassador to Malta, G.C., appointed by President Nixon to serve 1969-1972.

Recalling her husband's early campaigns, she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in 2005 how Arizona’s politicos identified her husband’s political viability right away.

“When we took up residence in Arizona,” she recalled, “several people in the legislature came to him and asked him to run.”

In addition to her political and ambassadorial support roles, Mrs. Pritzlaff was widely active in Arizona politics, in particular as co-chair of the 1980 campaign to re-elect Barry Goldwater to the U.S. Senate. She also chaired the Board of Directors of the Barry and Peggy Goldwater Center for Democracy.

Over the years Mrs. Pritzlaff's numerous other leadership roles included serving as trustee at Washington University, St. Louis; director at the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Foundation; president of the Phoenix Art Museum and of Saint Luke's Hospital (including the hospital's Cancer Board and Arthritis Center); establishing teaching fellowships at various schools and colleges; and breeding and training Hackney ponies, which reflects her own achievements as an accomplished equestrian. She was recognized as The Phoenix Woman of the Year in 1978.

In the new book Waging War on Cancer: Dr. Pettit's Lifelong Quest to Find Cures (2015), author Robert S. Byars describes how Mrs. Pritzlaff frequently provided embattled oncologist Robert Pettit with funding when university budget cuts threatened to shut down his research on anti-tumor compounds and therapies.

“Black Friday threatened to cripple us, for it cut our operating budget off at the knees,” Pettit told Byars about struggling to meet payroll at the Cancer Research Institute at ASU, “but Mary Dell Pritzlaff, who had helped us many times earlier, came to the rescue again.”

A CMC Legacy

Mrs. Pritzlaff and her family are one of CMC’s leading legacy families, establishing themselves as benefactors across a multitude of departments and needs.

Their support has resulted in the establishing of several scholarships and funds to assist scholars and scholar-athletes (including the John Pritzlaff International Scholarship and the Pritzlaff Championship Travel Fund).

Mrs. Pritzlaff demonstrated her love of sports and athletic competition at CMC by supporting the Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) soccer program and the construction of John Pritzlaff Field (including scoreboard), which serves as the prime venue for CMS Soccer's preeminent teams.

Pritzlaff Field is also the location of the central event on the College's spring calendar, CMC’s annual Commencement ceremony.

Mrs. Pritzlaff and her family also belong to a small handful of key supporters critical in the building of the Biszantz Family Tennis Center, which has become the NCAA’s choice venue for conference championships, and in the construction of Stark Residence Hall.For her devotion to the College, Mrs. Pritzlaff was inducted into the CMC Alumni Association as an honorary life member.

Mary Dell Pritzlaff is survived by her childrenAnn (Fife) Symington SCR ’74; John (Satya) Pritzlaff, III ’76, Barbara (Doug) Pierce; and Richard Pritzlaff; ten grandchildren and eight great grandchildren; her sisters, Barbara (David) Taylor P’04 GP’12 and Judy Higgins; and nineteen nieces and nephews.

A memorial service for Mary Dell Pritzlaff will be held September 26 at 10 a.m. at St. Barnabas on the Desert Episcopal Church, 6715 North Mockingbird Lane, Paradise Valley, Arizona (reception following).


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