Remembering Susan Hammer JD’76

by Willamette University College of Law,

Life trustee, trailblazing lawyer and dedicated community leader leaves a legacy of innovation and service.

  • Susan Hammer
    Susan Hammer JD'76. Photo courtesy of Ann Hudner.
  • Susan Hammer at Mt Hood Summit
    Susan Hammer JD'76 stands atop the summit of Mt. Hood. Photo courtesy of Ann Hudner.

Willamette University is saddened to announce the passing of one of its dedicated community members, Susan Hammer JD'76, who served as a trustee of Willamette from 1999–2012. Susan passed away on August 26, 2020, in Portland. Susan was a devoted supporter of Willamette University, particularly the College of Law, who served in many capacities to support and further the work of the law school. A trailblazing lawyer, expert mediator, a dedicated community leader, Susan will be greatly missed by the Willamette community.

"Susan was an exemplary role model for our students and faculty," said Symeon Symeonides, dean emeritus of Willamette University College of Law. "She was truly brilliant, dynamic, full of creative ideas and a pioneer in her field. Our school has lost a generous benefactor and cheerful friend and supporter who made us proud throughout her outstanding career."

After graduating in 1976 from Willamette University College of Law, Susan served as the law clerk for Justice James Dolliver on the Washington State Supreme Court. She began practicing commercial litigation and employment law at Stoel Rives in 1978. During her 20 years with the firm, she became just the seventh woman to become a partner, making her one of the first women to be made partner at a major Portland law firm.

Susan's dedication and commitment naturally led her to leadership roles in all of the organizations she served. As became the first female president of the Multnomah Bar Association, she created the Committee on the Status of Women to respond to the needs of a growing number of women attorneys, including issues of work/family balance, parental leave, and gender discrimination. Susan also received the Professionalism Award during her time with the Multnomah Bar Association.

Susan was also deeply committed to community service and did extensive pro bono work. In 1987 she became one of the earliest recipients of the Oregon Commission for Women, Women Achievement Award. Then, in 1991, she was honored by Willamette with an Alumni Citation for Distinguished Achievement in Law & Public-Service.

In 1998, Susan founded Dispute Resolution Services, which focused on dispute resolution design and mediator selection. She was one of the first women in Portland to establish a practice focused on this area of the law that was little understood or used at the time. She mediated thousands of cases over two decades and served as a senior fellow at the Willamette University Center for Dispute Resolution. Since 2001, she has been a distinguished fellow for the International Academy of Mediators. She served on the academy’s board and received its national recognition, the Presidential Honor Award, in 2012 and 2014. Susan was listed in the top tier of The Best Lawyers in America and was named Oregon Mediation "Lawyer of the Year" in 2012.

"Susan was a warm, gracious, exceedingly intelligent and sophisticated woman, and perhaps the finest representative of the mediation community in the Pacific Northwest," said Susan Smith, professor of law at Willamette University College of Law.

In addition to serving as an outstanding leader in her field, Susan was a leader in her community. She served as chair for the board of Planned Parenthood Columbia-Willamette. Under her leadership, the organization expanded from five to nine health care centers. Susan was the first person to be honored with the Planned Parenthood Susan Hammer Award for Transformative Leadership, named in her honor to recognize her leadership. Her community service also extended to roles as president of the City Club of Portland, a trustee and then life trustee of the Willamette University Board of Trustees; board member of the Pacific Northwest College of Art; Ecotrust, Literary Arts, and Oregon Public Broadcasting. She was the first recipient of the Sally Lawrence President's Award from the Pacific Northwest College of Art, and in 2007 Oregon Business named her one of the 50 Great Leaders of Oregon.

"Susan Hammer was the best of what Willamette University is all about — she was intelligent, committed to her community and hard working," said Lynne Saxton ’76, chair of the Willamette University Board of Trustees. "Susan's grace and willingness to consider all sides of an issue were treasured by those of us who had the privilege to work with her. She was, and will continue to be, an inspiration to us every day."

Plans for a memorial service will be announced at a later date. Donations in her memory may be made to Friends of The Columbia Gorge, Literary Arts, Hoyt Arboretum Friends, Willamette University or the charity of your choice. Sign the online guest book via Susan's obituary on

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