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J.R. and Us
Chestertown, MD—The Washington College community mourns the passing of honorary alumnus Larry Hagman H’02, the television star whose roles as astronaut Tony Nelson in the sitcom “I Dream of Jeannie” and J.R. Ewing on the evening drama “Dallas” made him a cultural treasure. In his obituary, the New York Times wrote, “For a time in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Mr. Hagman could lay claim to the title of most famous actor in the world.”
Hagman, who died November 23 at age 81, had strong family ties to Chestertown, where his sister Heller Halliday lives, and to Washington College, where a niece and two nephews earned their degrees. In 1992, he helped one of those nephews, Matthew Weir ’90, establish a drama scholarship in honor of his mother—Weir’s grandmother—Mary Martin.
“Larry entertained millions of people and was known the world over, but to me he was a loved relative and friend,” says Weir, who serves on the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors. “We shared many experiences together and I always enjoyed my time with him. We shot doves, duck and geese in Chestertown, celebrated Washington College together, travelled to “Burning Man” in Nevada together and fished and shot in the Bahamas. There will never be another Larry Hagman.”
The first recipient of the Mary Martin Drama Scholarship, Mary Hoffman Pohlig ’98, recalls getting to know Hagman at Fall Convocation 1997 when he presented her with the prize on stage. “He actually hung out with me all afternoon and evening,” says Pohlig, who today lives in Belcamp, Md. with her husband and two children. “I got to introduce him to professors and friends. He was funny and seemed to enjoy being on campus. He had undergone his liver transplant a couple of years earlier, and I remember his telling me that his liver was only 45 years old!
“I also got the sense that he enjoyed being recognized both for his own accomplishments and for being the son of Mary Martin. It was like these two very separate things in his life came together that day,” adds Pohlig, who acted in theater, film and television for five years after graduating and is currently a resident technical artist with the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Pohlig also recalls that at the Convocation, where she was not scheduled to speak, Hagman turned to her after his own remarks and asked her to say a few words. Of course, as a theater major, she was trained for a little ad libbing. “I just said I hoped to have a quarter of the talent and a quarter of the career of the brilliant Mary Martin.”
Since that first award of $7,500, the Mary Martin Award has given a total of $164,250 in scholarship funds to talented theater majors, most recently to Nina Sharp ’13, who received the award in spring of 2012.
Hagman returned to campus in spring of 2002 to receive an honorary doctor of fine arts degree and to sign copies of his newly published memoir, Hello Darlin! In his remarks, he recalled his brief experience as a student at Bard College and his early years of small parts and backstage work in theater. “It is a great honor to have this Doctor of Arts degree bestowed on me. I worked hard for it!” he told the audience. “Not in the halls of Academia, but in the studios of Hollywood and the heat of Dallas in the summer.”
Referring to the fact that it took his nephew and niece 6 and 8 years to complete their degrees at Washington College, he continued, “I am a little slower. It has taken me 53 years to get mine. It shows that my family has a great deal of tenacity and that Washington College has a great deal of patience.”