USAO News Bureau

USAO's Oldest Living Graduate Passes Away at 104

Friday, October 9, 2009

The oldest known living graduate of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma passed away recently. Carma Russell (Zimmerman) Leigh passed away Sept. 25 at the age of 104 in La Mesa, California.



According to alumni records, Leigh held the title of oldest graduate since January after the passing of Alma Yount, a 1952 graduate, who was 106 years old. Two alums now share the title of oldest living graduate -- each 102 years old. There are four alums that are 100 years old.

Leigh was born in 1904 near McCloud and graduated from the Oklahoma College for Women (now USAO) in 1925. She was inducted into the USAO Alumni Hall of Fame in 1973.

Following graduation, she moved to California and earned a master's degree in history and librarian studies at the University of California in 1930. She worked at four different libraries before being appointed the Washington State Librarian in 1945.

During her six years in Washington, she crafted the state's Inter-County Library legislation. Leigh was the president of the Pacific Northwest Library Association in 1950 and helped draft a comprehensive report on public library service in the Pacific Northwest and how to improve it.

She was appointed the California State Librarian in 1951. She served until 1972, having been reappointed by three governors -- the last one being Ronald Reagan. She was the first woman to direct state libraries in two states.

Her career began as librarians statewide struggled to provide even minimum services to a population that grew rapidly after World War II.

Leigh's interest in improving library services extended beyond California. As a result, she was active in the national campaign that led to federal laws and grants that helped improve library services.

Following a distinguished 42-year career, she remained active in library affairs.  In the early 1990s, she served on the California State Library Networking Task Force.  The California Library Association honored her in 1995 as its longest-standing member, and she was recognized by the American Library Association in 1996 for her legislative contributions, some of which set national public library standards during the 1950s and '60s.


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Chosen OCW’s “Most Popular Girl” in 1925, Carma Russell (Zimmerman) Leigh passed away Sept. 25 at the age of 104 in La Mesa, California. She was the oldest known living graduate of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma.