Each year, Pomona College selects alumni to receive the Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award, which recognizes alumni for high achievement in professions or community service. These are alumni who have carried the spirit of the College into the rest of the world and lived up to the famous quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed into the gates of the College: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."
Penny Lee Dean ’77
Penny Lee Dean, a celebrated long-distance swimmer and six-time NCAA Division II All American at Pomona College, made history in her junior year when she swam from the California mainland to Catalina Island in a world record time of 7:15:55. A year later, she smashed the record for the 52-mile Catalina Channel double crossing by almost seven hours.
At Pomona, Dean swam on both the men’s and women’s swimming teams and was captain of the women’s team for all four years. She held 20 out of 24 women’s records, three men’s school records, 10 SCIAC (Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference) records and competed at three AIAW (Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women) national championships.
As a Watson Fellow after graduation, Dean studied swim programs in Europe and prepared to swim the English Channel, a goal she set when she was 10 years old. On July 29, 1978, she swam the channel in seven hours, 40 minutes, a record that would stand for 16 years (broken by a student Dean coached on the U.S. National Team). She held the women’s record until 2006.
Dean returned to Pomona College in 1978 to become a professor of physical education and head coach of the women’s swimming program, women’s water polo and, for two seasons, men’s swimming. In the second season of her 26-year tenure at Pomona, the swimming team placed sixth nationally, going on to become one of the nation’s most dominant programs in the 1980s. Under Dean, the Sagehens won 17 conference titles, and team members set school, conference, national and world records.
In 1994, six members of the women’s team, coached by Dean, broke the team record for crossing the Catalina Channel by almost two and a half hours.
A world-record holder in 13 events, Dean is the author of Open Water Swimming: A Complete Guide for Distance Swimmers and Triathletes and other books. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame in 1996 and into the Pomona-Pitzer Athletic Hall of Fame in 1987.
Myrlie Evers-Williams ’68
Civil rights activist, author and businesswoman Myrlie Evers-Williams was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, where she was raised by her grandmother and aunt. She met and married Medgar Evers while a student at Alcorn A&M College and worked by his side after he was appointed the first Mississippi field secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
A civil rights pioneer, who organized sit-ins and boycotts and helped blacks register to vote, Medgar Evers was assassinated outside his home in 1963. After enduring two court trials and two hung juries that failed to bring her husband’s murderer to justice, Myrlie Evers moved to California with her three children. She settled in Claremont and enrolled at Pomona College, where she earned her B.A. in sociology. While still a student, she wrote For Us, the Living, which chronicled her late husband's life and work.
Evers-Williams worked at The Claremont Colleges as assistant director of planning and development and later moved to Los Angeles to become ARCO’s national director of community affairs. She returned to campus in 1975 for her wedding in Little Bridges to Walter Williams, a longshoreman and union organizer. In 1987, she was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to the city’s five-member Board of Public Works, the first black woman to serve as commissioner. A long-time member of the NAACP, Evers-Williams became the first woman to chair the organization in 1995.
After 30 years, Evers-Williams’ long pursuit of justice for Medgar Evers ended when the state of Mississippi granted a new trial in 1994, resulting in a guilty verdict and life imprisonment for the assassin. In 1999, she founded the Medgar Evers Institute; the institute’s board later changed the name to the Medgar and Myrlie Evers Institute.
Evers-Williams has stayed active, delivering the 1996 commencement address at Pomona College; fulfilling her aunt and grandmother’s dream that the young pianist and singer would someday perform at Carnegie Hall (she played “Claire du Lune” and “The Man I Love” at age 79); and, in 2013, delivering the invocation at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration, the first woman and the first layperson to do so.
Her autobiography, Watch Me Fly: What I Learned on the Way to Becoming the Woman I Was Meant to Be, was published in 1999.
Richard G. Taranto ’77
Richard G. Taranto was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit by President Barack H. Obama in 2013, confirmed by the Senate on March 11, 2013, and assumed the duties of his office on March 15, 2013.
Taranto practiced law with the firm of Farr & Taranto in Washington, D.C., from 1989 to 2013, where he specialized in appellate litigation. From 1986 to 1989, he served as an assistant to the solicitor general, representing the United States in the Supreme Court. He was in private practice from 1984 to 1986 with the law firm of Onek, Klein & Farr.
Taranto served as a law clerk at all three levels of the federal court system. He clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1983 to 1984; for Judge Robert Bork of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit from 1982 to 1983; and for Judge Abraham Sofaer of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York from 1981 to 1982.
Taranto received a J.D. from Yale Law School in 1981 and a B.A. from Pomona College in 1977.
Brian E. Tucker ’67
Brian Tucker received a B.A. in physics from Pomona College, a Ph.D. in Earth sciences from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego, and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University. He headed the Geologic Hazards Programs of the California Geological Survey from 1982 to1991. In 1991, he founded GeoHazards International, a nonprofit organization working to reduce the risk of natural hazards in the world’s most vulnerable communities through preparedness, mitigation and advocacy.
In 2000, Tucker was honored for his service to the people of Nepal by the King of Nepal and, in 2002, was named a MacArthur Fellow. In 2007, he received the U.S. Civilian Research and Development Foundation’s George Brown Award for International Science and Technology Cooperation and was elected a Fellow of the California Academy of Sciences. In 2009, he was named as one 100 most influential alumni at UC San Diego.