Michael Hammond, 69; New Chief of NEA


Michael P. Hammond, just one week into his new job as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, was found dead Tuesday at his temporary residence in Washington, D.C. He was 69.

The cause of death remained undetermined at press time, but NEA spokesman Mark Weinberg said it was apparently natural causes.

Weinberg, who called Hammond's sudden death a "tragic loss," said the White House is expected to name an acting chairman for the federal arts agency shortly.

After that, President Bush will nominate a new candidate, who must then be confirmed by the Senate.

The agency's grant-making and programs are not expected to be disrupted as the Bush administration seeks a new NEA chief.

Bush praised Hammond in a statement released Tuesday night.

"Michael Hammond was an accomplished conductor, composer and advocate of the arts," Bush said.

"His commitment to excellence and his extraordinary talents will be greatly missed."

Hammond, former dean of Rice University's Shepherd School of Music, was confirmed as chairman of the federal arts agency just over a month ago. He began work on Jan. 22.

Hammond succeeded Bill Ivey, a Clinton appointee who stepped down from the post Sept. 1, eight months before the end of his four-year term, saying he wanted to make way for the new administration. Robert Martin, Bush's newly appointed director of the Federal Institute for Museum and Library Sciences, served as acting chairman in the interim.

On Monday, Hammond stayed home from the office because of flu-like symptoms--but despite his illness attended a gala dinner and opening night performance of "The Duchess of Malfi" at Washington's Shakespeare Theatre. The arts endowment was co-sponsor of the production.

Hammond, who attended the evening's events with the endowment's director of theater programs, Gigi Bolt, ate dinner at a pre-performance party at the U.S. Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center a few blocks from the theater, then walked to the theater with Nicholas Goldsborough, the Shakespeare Theatre's new managing director.

Goldsborough is also a newcomer to Washington: Formerly a vice president at the Los Angeles Music Center, Goldsborough took over his new post one day before Hammond arrived at the NEA. Goldsborough said theater personnel were excited by the attendance of the new arts agency chief, among a celebrity-studded crowd that included Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Jordan's Queen Noor.

By the play's intermission, however, Hammond was feeling so ill that he left in a taxicab to return to the house where he had been staying since arriving in Washington. His wife, Anne Lilley Hammond, was in Houston, dealing with furniture movers at the couple's house there, so Hammond was alone. When he failed to arrive at his office in the morning--Hammond usually came in very early, Weinberg said--concerned co-workers made repeated calls to the house. When there was no answer, police were called. Officers broke into the house to find Hammond's body.

"On our way from the dinner to the theater, I spent a little time with him, a nice getting-to-know-you kind of chat," Goldsborough said Tuesday. "We agreed that we would get together very soon; I guess that's not going to happen. I'm shocked."

The NEA's Weinberg said of Hammond: "He had a great passion for the arts, and for the role of the National Endowment in creating a lively appreciation for the arts in this country. He believed very strongly in the importance of early education in the arts for young people. He was a very accomplished composer, conductor and educator. But despite his brilliance, he was very easy to talk to and had a very open mind. He didn't always presume to know best, and he was just a lovely, lovely man."

Before taking a position at Rice University, Hammond was the founding dean of music for the new arts campus of the State University of New York at Purchase, where he later served as president of the college. He founded Pepsico Summerfare, an international festival of the arts at Purchase, and was director of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music in Milwaukee.

Hammond, a native of Kenosha, Wis., was a Rhodes scholar, educated at Lawrence University and Delhi University, where he studied Indian philosophy. A composer and conductor, he served on the board of the Houston Symphony and was a founder of the Prague Mozart Academy, now the European Mozart Academy, in the Czech Republic. His interests included music from Southeast Asia, the Renaissance and the Middle Ages.

At the time of his nomination, Hammond said: "I am deeply honored by President Bush's confidence in me. The National Endowment for the Arts is an increasingly important agency. The arts can help heal our country and be a source of pride and comfort."

In addition to his wife, Hammond is survived by a son, actor Thomas M. Hammond, who is in the cast of a current production of Shakespeare's "Cymbeline" at the Lucille Lortel Theater in New York City.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World