Ambassador’s Life, Gifts Inspire Service

A substantial gift from James C. Hormel, ’58, will provide a three­-year full-­tuition scholarship each year to an entering student who has demonstrated a commitment to public service.

Mr. Hormel’s commitment to supporting Law School students and graduates working for the public interest began with a 1986 gift that he has generously supplemented in subsequent years to create the foundation for many of the substantial forms of financial support that the Law School offers today.

“Even back in 1986,” Hormel says, “it was clear that debt burdens were deterring some graduates from pursuing public service jobs and careers. Today the financial challenge is considerably more severe, even as our country needs more of its brightest lawyers to apply their talents for the public good.”

Hormel’s own record of service is exemplary. He was US ambassador to Luxembourg, and he served on two United Nations delegations. He is a founding board member of Human Rights Campaign, the largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans, and he financed the Gay and Lesbian Center at the San Francisco Public Library, which includes the world’s largest collection of LGBT materials. He has established a faculty chair in social justice at his college alma mater, Swarthmore, and has been a member of Swarthmore’s board of managers almost continuously since 1988. He also serves on five other nonprofit boards and is one of only four people to have received a lifetime appointment to the Law School’s Visiting Committee.

His 1999 appointment as ambassador to Luxembourg capped Hormel’s five­year quest, against fierce opposition, to become the first openly gay US ambassador. He says that he realized when he was sworn in to his position that he was the highest­ranking openly gay official in the US government. “That was a big moment,” he has said, “not just for me but for a whole constituency that had been held back for all of our history.” His 2011 memoir, Fit to Serve, describes both the political struggle to attain that ambassadorship and his personal struggles to acknowledge, come to terms with, and eventually declare his sexual orientation.

From 1961 to 1967, he served as the Law School’s first full­time dean of students and director of admissions. He recalls his experiences at the Law School fondly: “As a student, I received a rigorous, challenging, and inspiring education from a magnificent faculty. That education has served me well in all that I have done. I loved my time at the Law School, and when Dean Levi invited me to return as dean of students, it was like being readmitted to paradise.”

As admissions director, he worked to increase the representation of women and people of color at the Law School. Regarding LGBT issues, he says, “It might have benefited more students if I had been openly gay then, but I had spent my life trying not to be gay, and I still had not really recognized sexual orientation as a legitimate equality issue. Maybe it’s worth remembering that I was living in a world in which it was difficult for anyone who was gay to imagine there wasn’t something wrong with them.”

By the end of his tenure as dean, he says, “I had gone from being a model husband and father to a divorcé; from a Republican to a very left­wing Democrat; and from a timid person to someone on the verge of taking charge of his life.” He moved to New York, then to Hawai’i, increasing his self-­assurance and deepening his political convictions as the years passed.

In 1977, he settled in San Francisco, where he founded his investment and philanthropy company, Equidex, and where he lives today with his life partner Michael Nguyen. He enjoys warm relationships with his former wife and their five children, fourteen grandchildren, and seven great­grandchildren.

“I wrote my book primarily to help all people, not just those who are gay, recognize that they have the power within them to make a difference in this world,” he says. “I hope that these new Hormel Scholarships, along with the other aid the Law School offers, will help more people to make a positive difference through public service.”

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