Nancy Pope


Washington, D.C.

January 28, 1957 — August 30, 2019

Former Pendleton resident Nancy Pope passed away on August 30 in Washington, D.C. She was 62 years old.

Nancy was born January 28, 1957, in Pendleton to Joe and Paula Pope. She attended local schools, graduating from Pendleton High in 1975. She took piano and violin lessons and became a regular on the ski bus to Spout Springs, taking equal pride in a perfect slalom turn and a well-aimed snowball.

Her father’s employment with United Airlines meant the family could travel internationally for free, and Nancy enjoyed trips to the Bahamas, Italy, France, the UK and India. These experiences and her mother’s talent for art sparked in Nancy an early interest in history and design. Unsurprisingly, this inclined her towards museum work, and she aimed high. In elementary school, when classmates’ ambitions ranged from fantastical to prosaic, Nancy would declare, without hesitation, “I want to work for the Smithsonian.”

Her path to the pinnacle of the museum profession began at the University of Oregon, where she majored in history and French, spending a year abroad in Poitiers, France. After her 1979 graduation, Nancy headed for Washington, D.C., where she fully paid her dues, finding distinctly unglamorous work as a clerk typist at the League of Women Voters. Presently, she moved up the career ladder to professional work at the Library of Congress. In 1984, she landed a position at the Smithsonian American History museum, after which she began an American Studies master’s program that she completed while working full time. In the early 1990s, she became the head curator of the History Department for the Smithsonian’s new National Postal Museum. She took great pride in being “present at the creation” of the NPM.

Nancy designed many of the Postal Museum’s biggest and best exhibits, including “Air Mail,” “Missing you: Last letters from World War II” and “Systems at Work,” which revealed how mail reached its far-flung destinations. She wrote often for Smithsonian magazine and did numerous interviews with national media, including NPR, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, USA Today and Sirius XM Road Dog network, entertaining road scholars on their long haul routes. Always she was working on the next exhibit, fielding inquiries from the public and promoting the museum. A colleague noted that Nancy was the go-to national expert on the postal service in the U.S.

Museum work does not allow for abundant free time. What little she had, Nancy put to maximum advantage. For years during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, she volunteered at D.C.’s Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic, even taking in for a time a patient and her young child rejected by their family. In 1987, she participated actively in the making of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which covered the National Mall. Recently, she became involved with Food and Friends, a food delivery charity for people with serious illnesses. When work restricted her after-hours activities, she made a point of giving generously to local, national and world charities.

A music lover of eclectic tastes, she had a formidable library of blues, opera, and classic rock recordings. From childhood, Nancy followed NFL football religiously, championing the Washington Redskins and enthusiastically hating on the Dallas Cowboys. NPM co-workers looked forward to football season as Nancy regularly baked a variety of cookies for Monday postgame celebrations.

Despite her professional triumphs in D.C., Nancy never forgot her small town roots — she would tell anyone who would listen about growing up in Pendleton. She was thrilled to attend the centennial Round-Up in 2010, the last time she would visit her home town.

Nancy is survived by her brother Chris, of Vancouver, Canada; aunt Peggy Conn, of Bethesda, Md.; cousins Margaret Mason, Marcy Cohen and Rex Conn; and a devoted coterie of friends who will cherish her memory.

At her request, no service will be held.

Anyone wishing to honor Nancy, please consider a donation to Heritage Station Museum in Pendleton or the institution she helped found, the Smithsonian National Postal Museum in Washington, D.C.

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