George Mason Patron, Friend Omer Hirst Dies
Posted: July 31, 2003 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am
By Daniel Walsch
Omer Lee Hirst, 89, statesman, businessman, and 1989 recipient of the George Mason Medal, died of natural causes on Tuesday, July 29. As an elected official, Hirst was highly instrumental in two major breakthroughs for George Mason: the acquisition of the law school and the achievement of doctoral status.
Approximately one month ago, in a correspondence to President Alan Merten, Hirst expressed his high regard for the university and its faculty “for another successful year. Your progress is very impressive,” he wrote. “May we never forget our responsibility to support education for those who will follow us.”
“I will always remember Omer for all of the wonderful things that he did for George Mason, for the pride he had in the university, and for the high expectations that he had for all of us at George Mason,” says Merten.
Hirst also had a significant role in the development of Northern Virginia and was a leading member of the Virginia state legislature, first as a member of the House of Delegates from 1954 to 1959, and later as a member of the state Senate from 1964 to 1979.
It was during his tenure with the General Assembly when Hirst was chief patron of the bills that created George Mason’s School of Law and authorized the financing and construction of the Dulles Toll Road. He also chaired the Senate Welfare Committee (1968-71), the Commission on Mental Indigent and Geriatric Patients (1972-79), and the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (1978-79).
President of Omer L. Hirst Inc., and director of O.C. Builders Inc., Hirst was the original promoter of the Landmark Shopping Center, the first three-department store shopping center in the Washington region. He was also a driving force at First American Bank of Virginia, where he was director for 20 years.
Following his service with the Virginia legislature, Hirst remained closely involved with George Mason. In 1980, Hirst and his wife, Nancy, created a prestigious lecture series at George Mason featuring nationally recognized speakers such as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Lewis F. Powell. In 1986, this grew into the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Endowed Professorship of Public Policy.
He was a member of the George Mason Foundation Board of Trustees for 13 years and was a keynote speaker at the dedication of the George Mason statue and opening of the Johnson Center in 1996 on the Fairfax Campus.
Nancy Hirst has also remained closely affiliated with the university. She was a member of the Board of Visitors from 1983 to 1991 and is currently serving as a member of the College of Arts and Sciences Advisory Board. The Hirsts also served as honorary co-chairs of the university’s first Arts Gala in 1981.