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Noted photography curator and UC Berkeley 'First Lady' Therese Heyman dies at 74

– Therese Thau Heyman, an influential curator of photography noted for her expertise in works related to California, who as the wife of a University of California, Berkeley, chancellor played host to world leaders, died here Friday, Jan. 16, following a long illness. She was 74.

 Therese Thau Heyman
Therese Thau Heyman (Photo by Ben Ailes)

Heyman wrote extensively on American photography and photographic history. She held positions with the Smithsonian Institution, the National Museum of American Art and Yale University. Her work as senior curator of prints and photographs at the Oakland Museum of California began in 1960 and became an association that spanned nearly four decades.

"Through her efforts, the museum is recognized as the major center for historical and contemporary California photographic art," said Dennis M. Power, executive director of the Oakland Museum of California.

"Therese was brilliant in her field. Through her knowledge, contacts and warm personality, she collected, created exhibitions and wrote on photography in California, fostering increased awareness and appreciation around the world," he said.

From 1980 to 1990, when her husband, I. Michael Heyman, was chancellor of UC Berkeley, Heyman found herself with another job, that of hosting university events, welcoming literally thousands of new students, and greeting world leaders.

I. Michael and Therese Heyman
Therese Heyman with her husband, then-UC Berkeley I. Michael Heyman. (Photo by Saxon Donnelly)

"Therese Heyman was able to blend her career as a professional art curator and as the first lady of the Berkeley campus," said Richard Hafner, former public affairs director for the campus.

She took it upon herself to fill the public areas of chancellor's residence, University House, with American art. "You often hear people say there is no American art," she told an interviewer in 1980, "but this isn't so."

Among the international leaders she hosted at the campus were Francois Mitterrand, former president of France; Willie Brandt, former chancellor of Germany; and Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Heyman was born in New York City in 1929 and attended Fieldston School through high school. She was a graduate of Smith College and Yale University. Smith College named her one of its "Remarkable Women" in celebration of the college's 125th anniversary in 1995.

Heyman co-authored many books, including "Dorothea Lange: American Photographs" (1975); "Seeing Straight: the f.64 Revolution in Photography" (1993); and "Picturing California: A Century of Photographic Genius" (1989).

She served on the boards of Smith College Museum of Art and of Humanities West in San Francisco. Art Table of Northern California recently honored her as its woman of the year.

In addition to her husband of 54 years, she is survived by her son, James, and her daughter-in-law Lisa, of St. Paul, Minn.; and three grandchildren, Madelyn, Sophie and Joseph. Her son, Stephen, preceded her in death.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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