Lawrence alum, NEA chief dies unexpectedly

Hammond, alum and NEA chief for 3 weeks.
Steve Wideman of the Appleton Post Crescent

Hammond, alum and NEA chief for 3 weeks. (Rice Univ.)

This article appears courtesy of the Appleton Post Crescent. It appeared in the Jan. 30 edition.

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Michael Hammond, who spent his childhood in Appleton and was a graduate of Lawrence University, died a week into his new job.

Hammond, 69, was found Tuesday at a home in Washington, D.C., where he had been staying, NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg said. He had complained of feeling ill in recent days, and he appeared to have died of natural causes, he said.

A Kenosha native, Hammond moved with his family to Appleton when he was in the seventh grade. His family lived in the 800 block of E. North Street.

Hammond, who assumed the NEA post Jan. 22, was one of only seven Lawrence students to become a Rhodes Scholar.

“Mike Hammond was assuredly among Lawrence University’s most distinguished and accomplished alumni,” said Lawrence President Richard Warch.

“A Rhodes Scholar, gifted musician, neuroscientist, university president and music school dean, he was a Renaissance man of the first magnitude.”

Hammond’s sister Jean Otto, who lives in Whitefish Bay, WI, said her brother’s death came as a shock to relatives.

“I talked to him on the telephone on Sunday. He was so upbeat and excited about what he was ready to begin,” she said. “I hadn’t heard him that keen on life for a long time. This is all so heartbreaking. He had ten good years ahead of him doing things he knew to be important.”

Otto said her brother had cancer since 1987 “but he felt fine.”

Otto said that as a student at Appleton High School, Hammond started the school’s first pep band.

After studying at Lawrence, Hammond attended Delhi University in India and Oxford University in England. At Oxford he earned degrees in philosophy, psychology and physiology.

Hammond had been dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston before taking the NEA position. President Bush appointed Hammond in September. He was confirmed by the Senate in December.