Penny W. Stamps — a University of Michigan alumna, fierce advocate for the arts, community leader, philanthropist, design professional and former teacher — died Thursday at her home after a battle with leukemia. She was 74.
Stamps, who with her husband E. Roe Stamps created the Stamps Family Charitable Foundation, contributed significantly to U-M over the years, beginning in 1999 with funding for the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series.
After Stamps family foundations granted the School of Art & Design’s most generous philanthropic gift ever — $32.5 million —in 2012, the Board of Regents renamed the school in Penny Stamps’ honor. She served as the school’s most recent commencement speaker, earning an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree at the 2018 spring ceremony.
“Our Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design proudly bears her name, reflecting her unwavering support of our students and her vision for championing art and design’s power to foster creative solutions that enhance the lives of people on our campus and around the globe.”“We are deeply saddened by the passing of Penny W. Stamps, a great friend of the University of Michigan and a cherished member of the Michigan Family,” President Mark Schlissel said.
“I will always remember Penny’s warmth and kindness, along with her devotion to helping the University of Michigan — and the world — become a better place,” Schlissel said.
In addition to the speaker series, Stamps created the Roman J. Witt Artist Residency Program in honor of her father, the Stamps Gallery on Central Campus, and Stamps Creative Work Scholarships.
In 2006, the Stamps Foundation launched its signature merit scholarship program. To date, the program has funded multiyear scholarships and fellowships for more than 1,600 students at more than 40 colleges and universities nationwide, including U-M.
Her philanthropic contributions also made possible the Stamps Auditorium on North Campus and the Stamps Student Commons at the Stephen M. Ross Academic Center.
“What’s your big idea?” Stamps asked graduates in her April commencement speech. “What are you willing to spend your moral capital, your intellectual capital, your sweat equity in pursuing outside the walls of the University of Michigan?
“You have your artistic skills; now develop your ideas, your big idea,” she said. “Imagination has no limits.”
Stamps Dean Guna Nadarajan said one of his first official duties as dean was to work with Penny and E. Roe Stamps in formalizing and celebrating the naming of the school.
“It was a joyous day all around, one filled with hopes and dreams and grace,” Nadarajan said. “Penny Stamps didn't take the responsibility of her namesake lightly: the Penny W. Stamps School of Art and Design mattered to her. She was ever attentive, never prescriptive in the nurturing of the next generation of artists and designers.
“Penny was passionate about helping students across the country be the best that they could be,” Nadarajan said. “Her time, energy and commitment seemed to know no bounds. Seeing young people harness the power of higher education was a driving force in her life. She was — and is — an inspiration to me and to all."
Stamps, who grew up in Chicago and lived in Miami, earned a bachelor’s degree in design and a teaching certificate at U-M in 1966. She enjoyed a distinguished career at Herman Miller and Kaplan & Fox Inc. before heading her own residential design firm in the Boston area for 18 years.
As an alumna, Stamps co-chaired the Michigan Difference National Campaign Leadership Committee and was a deputy chair of the Victors for Michigan fundraising campaign.
She served on the President’s Advisory Group and advisory councils to the deans of the Stamps School and the School of Education. U-M recognized her in 2005 with the David B. Hermelin Award for Volunteer Leadership.
She volunteered in her community, served on numerous boards, and provided pro-bono design services and philanthropic support for animal, cultural, environmental and health-related organizations.
She helped build the Grayvik Animal Care Center at Ocean Reef and served on the Humane Society of Greater Miami board since 2011. In 2015, the Council for Advancement and Support of Education recognized the Stamps Foundation with its James L. Fisher Award for Distinguished Service to Education.
Stamps is survived by her husband of 47 years, E. Roe Stamps; her mother, Carmella A. Witt; her son, Will Stamps (India); and her daughter, Ann Stamps Ridgeway (Dustin). She also is survived by her grandchildren, Hunter and Gwyneth.
A funeral mass will take place Tuesday in Coconut Grove, Florida. In lieu of flowers, her family suggests a gift in her honor to the Stamps School.
In her commencement speech, Stamps told the students that graduation was only the beginning of their “continuing education” throughout life.
“Now go out there and break the rules,” she said. “Make the world a better place for your being here. Create fantastic art. Design products which will change the way we look at the world. Dream, engage, imagine.
“Live a glorious and fantastic life, and do it with courage, grit and determination.”