Remembering Orcilia

Orcilia Zúñiga Forbes, Ph.D., was a remarkable woman who cared deeply about her family and community. A retired nurse and university administrator, she was a thoughtful, compassionate and principled board member of the Meyer Memorial Trust for 16 years.

Debbie Craig, Meyer Board Chair, mourned and praised her friend and longtime colleague.

“Oregon has lost a great citizen,” Debbie said. “Orcilia was a proud woman of color, a leader who challenged us to always think of the underserved. We know what a huge loss this is to Meyer and we realize there is a long list of organizations, universities and art museums that are experiencing the same incredible sorrow.”

Born in Carlsbad, New Mexico, the eldest of Lorenzo and Anita Zúñiga’s eight children, Orcilia learned to value education. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing from the University of New Mexico in 1960, and masters degrees in nursing and public policy — one from the Oregon Health and Sciences University in 1966, and one from the University of California Berkeley School of Public Health in 1972. She worked as a public school nurse, then became assistant director of health services at Portland State University before completing her doctorate in educational policy and management from the University of Oregon in 1992.

Orcilia spent a distinguished, four decade-long career in higher education administration. She served as Dean of Students and Vice President for Student Affairs at Portland State University before returning to her alma mater in 1989, to become Vice-President of Student Affairs and later, Vice President for Institutional Advancement at the University of New Mexico. She returned to Oregon in 1998 to serve as Vice-President of University Advancement at Oregon State University, retiring in 2004.

She also served on the boards of many community, health, cultural and civic organizations, including the Hispanic Chambers of Commerce in both Albuquerque and Portland, Providence Health and Services System, Foundations for A Better Oregon/Chalkboard Project, National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation and the Spanish Colonial Arts Society. In 1991, she received the MANA de Albuquerque’s Brindis a la Mujer Hispana Award, and the NAACP Martin Luther King Jr. Award. In 2009, University of New Mexico’s Alumni Association honored her with the Bernard S. Rodey Award for her contributions as an alumna. Her hard work and dedication were spotlighted in a show on Spanish-language KUNP Univision Portland and by Oregon Public Broadcasting.

She also served on the Oregon State Board of Higher Education, the Oregon State University Board of Trustees, and the University of New Mexico Foundation Board.

“In a recent casual dinner conversation Orcilia shared with me how much she valued her relationships with the Meyer staff and trustees as well as our nonprofit partners across Oregon,” said Doug Stamm, CEO of Meyer Memorial Trust. “Orcilia’s friendship, leadership and tireless commitment to improving the lives of others has left a deep and positive imprint on those of us who had the good fortune to work alongside her, as well as many people across the state who have been impacted by the Trust and our grantees’ efforts.”

Orcilia, who was married to the late Richard Bryan Forbes, Ph.D., former department head of biology at Portland State University, is survived by a daughter Eryn and her husband Hal, and a son, Bryan, his wife Colleen and granddaughter Sabina.

A public celebration of Orcilia's wonderful, rich and accomplished life will be held Friday, October 23, 4:00 p.m. at Portland State University, Hoffman Hall. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Oregon State University Foundation, University of New Mexico Foundation or an environmental nonprofit.