Paxson, Omar Martin
December 10, 1923 - December 18, 2013
Omar Paxson, professor emeritus of Theatre Arts at Occidental College, took his final curtain call eight days after his 90th birthday. He was one of the most beloved characters to ever grace the campus.
A native of Huntington Beach, the son of Leroy and Hortense, Paxson attended Fullerton Junior College for a year and a half before he was drafted into the Army. Paxson served in the 99th Infantry Division during World War II
. He fought in the Battle of the Bulge and crossed the Remagen Bridge before it collapsed, and worked in establishing the first American bridgehead across the Rhine River. ("The worst rifleman the Army ever tried to train," he observed in 2002.) He transferred to Occidental in 1946, graduating with an A.B. in 1948. He would later earn an M.A. and Ph.D. from Northwestern University
, and joined the Occidental faculty in 1950.
All totaled, Paxson directed 74 plays at Occidental, including nine works of Shakespeare; 12 by George Bernard Shaw; and all of Chekhov, Ibsen, and Aristophanes' works. In 1960, he founded the Occidental College Summer Drama Festival which he ran for the next 26 years, producing over 125 classical plays and musicals. The Festival was twice recognized by the Los Angeles Critics Circle for outstanding contribution to Southern California theater. His Occidental honors include the faculty achievement award in 1969 and the Graham Sterling Memorial Award in 1976 for outstanding teaching.
In addition to his work as a director, Paxson also taught playwriting and wrote more than two dozen plays himself. He remained prolific to the end, completing his last play just weeks before his death.
In retirement, Paxson remained active by leading alumni theatre trips to London, the Edinburgh Festival, New York, Ashland and the Santa Fe Opera.
Paxson is survived by his wife of 61 years, Helen (Imrie) Paxson; siblings, Ruth and Russell; children, Laura and Bill; and five grandchildren: North, Leifer, Brett, Brice and Brooklyn.
Plans for a memorial service are pending.
Donations to celebrate the life of Omar Paxson may be made to the Omar Paxson Student Scholarship Fund, Occidental College, 1600 Campus Rd., Los Angeles, CA, 90041.