UCI News

Jean Aldrich, founding first lady of UCI, dies at 96

Equally dedicated to campus, she was chancellor’s guiding support

March 23, 2016
Jean Aldrich, founding first lady of UCI, dies at 96
Punctuated by her trademark chuckle, Jean Aldrich, with her daughter Liz Toomey, speaks about the early days of UCI at a 2010 forum in the Student Center. Steve Zylius / UCI

Irvine, Calif., March 23, 2016 – Jean Hamilton Aldrich, wife of University of California, Irvine founding Chancellor Daniel G. Aldrich Jr., died Wednesday, March 23, at age 96 in Irvine, the city she watched grow into a diverse technology and business hub centered around a top-level research university that was once just her husband’s vision.

“You could see it in his eyes,” she once recalled of looking across the empty land with him. “He could ‘see’ a university, and he could ‘see’ a town around it. And that is what happened.”

It didn’t happen without some hard work. Rural, conservative Orange County was somewhat suspicious of the “liberal” University of California invading its grasslands.

Jean Aldrich’s ready smile, infectious laugh, grace under pressure and ease in the community helped dispel such concerns. While the campus was under construction, she threw herself into health and arts projects. She sat on the boards of a home for the developmentally disabled and South Coast Repertory.

“She was the ultimate scout leader,” recalled her oldest son, Daniel G. Aldrich III, who was interim vice chancellor for advancement at UCI from 2010 to 2012. “She could organize the socks off a caterpillar.”

Once the campus opened, Jean Aldrich started the first Town & Gown group, comprising faculty wives and women from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa. (There was no city of Irvine then.) She also served on scholarship selection committees and defused a student demonstration with hot chocolate, cookies and prayer – courtesy of the family pastor. She even filled in for her husband at the French Consulate once, giving a speech completely based on her knowledge of high school French.

“It has been a wonderful two-person career in which I have been involved,” she told campus historian Sam McCullough in 1990. “It’s been a position of public trust and responsibility. Few people are afforded the opportunity for public service. Impact on a community and its institutions is a source of both pride and unmatched life experience.”

Even after her husband’s retirement from UCI in 1984 and his death six years later, she remained connected to the campus and community. In 1990, she was honored with the UCI Founders Award for her tireless dedication and support. At age 94, she helped host her second U.S. president (the first being Lyndon B. Johnson at the campus dedication in 1964) when Barack Obama spoke at the 2014 commencement ceremony. The event at Angel Stadium of Anaheim kicked off the campus’s two-year 50th anniversary celebration. She also contributed to the UCI Libraries’ commemorative oral history project. And she was a familiar face around town – especially at Trader Joe’s in University Town Center.

Jean Aldrich was born Sept. 29, 1919, in Corregidor, Philippines. Her father was a career U.S. Army officer whose service took the family on global travels. She settled in Tucson, Ariz., with her mother after her father died. She attended the University of Arizona, where she earned the Freeman Award for top female graduate and was honorary captain of the ROTC cadet corps. She competed in swimming and horseback riding in college and played tennis in later years.

She is survived by her three children – Daniel G. Aldrich III; Elizabeth A. Toomey, who retired in 2012 as UCI’s assistant vice chancellor for government and community relations after 25 years of service to the campus; and Stuart Aldrich, a businessman and headhunter – as well as seven grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren.

Celebration-of-life services will be announced in April. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that remembrances be sent to the Dan & Jean Aldrich Scholarship fund or the Town & Gown Scholarship fund at UCI or to Community Church Congregational in Corona del Mar.

About the University of California, Irvine: Currently celebrating its 50th anniversary, UCI is the youngest member of the prestigious Association of American Universities. The campus has produced three Nobel laureates and is known for its academic achievement, premier research, innovation and anteater mascot. Led by Chancellor Howard Gillman, UCI has more than 30,000 students and offers 192 degree programs. It’s located in one of the world’s safest and most economically vibrant communities and is Orange County’s second-largest employer, contributing $4.8 billion annually to the local economy. For more on UCI, visit www.uci.edu.

Media access: Radio programs/stations may, for a fee, use an on-campus ISDN line to interview UC Irvine faculty and experts, subject to availability and university approval. For more UC Irvine news, visit news.uci.edu. Additional resources for journalists may be found at communications.uci.edu/for-journalists.