A portrait of University President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg was unveiled Wednesday afternoon at a ceremony honoring his service to the University and his larger than life personality.
Administrators, students and current University President Steven Knapp attended the event held in the School of Media and Public Affairs to commend Trachtenberg on his 19 years as university president and to tell their favorite Trachtenberg tales.
Trachtenberg’s portrait was painted by well-known artist Everett Raymond Kinstler, who has painted six U.S. presidents – including Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford – and famous personalities like Tony Bennett and Katharine Hepburn.
Kinstler said he was taken aback when he saw how many students knew and cared about Trachtenberg.
“One of my first impressions of President Trachtenberg when we walked around campus is how many people came up to the president and shook his hand,” Kinstler said. “He is a great connector and I tried to incorporate this into my work.”
Kinstler joked, “The only thing I could not get into the portrait was a hippopotamus.”
At the portrait unveiling, Robert Chernak, senior vice president for Student and Academic Support Services called Trachtenberg “one of a kind.”
“I have known him for 35 years. We have been colleagues at three institutions and I am amazed at the ease with which he interacts with people,” Chernak said.
University Provost and Vice President for Health Affairs, John “Skip” Williams, said he enjoyed his time working with the former president.
“President Trachtenberg was a visionary, a people person, extremely loyal and he does what he says he is going to do,” Williams said. “My fondest memory of President Trachtenberg is when he tells the crew story at [Colonial Inauguration], he is so entertaining and funny.”
Former Student Association Executive Vice President Kyle Boyer recalled memories of Trachtenberg during his CI three years ago.
“He has great enthusiasm and good business sense,” said Boyer, a junior. “My fondest memory of President Trachtenberg is his stories from CI including the hippo and the crew team story.”
Al May, a professor in SMPA, said whenever he thinks of Trachtenberg, he is reminded of the hippo mascot.
“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of President Trachtenberg is the hippo,” May said. “Also, he will be remembered for how he moved GW up a notch as a University, although he did break some china along the way.”
Trachtenberg himself spoke at the event and said he was honored to have a portrait of himself at GW.
“It has been a remarkable 10 days for me and Francine,” Trachtenberg said. “Ten days ago we had our first grandchild, Akiva, two days ago we all cried at his bris and today this portrait is unveiled.”
He, too, joked during his speech, saying he hopes a plaque will be placed by the portrait so no one forgets who he is in the future.
“Some day people will go by this portrait and ask, ‘Who is that?’ ” Trachtenberg said. “And so there ought to be a plaque explaining who I was so that my portrait does not become like Funger Hall where people ask all the time, ‘Who are the Fungers?'”