For Bliss Freytag Smith ’87, Princeton is the gift that keeps on giving
Photo: Steven Foxall
When Bliss Freytag Smith ’87 was 21, she found herself alone in Hong Kong. She had just completed a Princeton in Asia fellowship in Tokyo, and rather than return to the United States, she purchased a plane ticket to the city where she had lived briefly as a child. “I went with no plan and no job, as one does when you’re 21 years old,” she said. “I didn’t fully understand the strength of the Princeton alumni family as a newly minted graduate. I don’t remember how I got his number, but I called Owen Nee, the president of the Princeton Club in Hong Kong. I have always remembered his kindness when I called out of the blue.”
Nee ’65 was a busy lawyer who worked for a prestigious international law firm, but he made time to help. “He gave me a dozen names that led to my first job, which then led to the job that turned into my career with Reuters,” said Smith, who worked on the financial information side of the international news agency. “Over the years since then, my connections to Princeton and to the alumni community have evolved and been a constant source of both friends and inspiration.”
After Smith married in 1999 and began a family, she and her husband, Pelham, settled in Dallas, Texas. She played a leadership role in the local Alumni Schools Committee, and after organizing a successful interview blitz session that gathered members of the Princeton Club of Dallas-Ft. Worth, she became part of the leadership that helped energize the growing club. “A group of us realized that we needed to formalize the structure of the club to maintain its continuity,” she said. “We made the regional association a 501c3, adopted a constitution and bylaws, and created a large executive committee. The idea was to have 10-15 people who are responsible for bite-sized jobs so that busy Princeton alumni can still contribute and be involved.”
In 2018, the Dallas-Ft. Worth club received the John Maclean Award from the Alumni Association, in recognition of the club’s exceptional reinvigoration efforts. Because of her longstanding volunteer efforts, Smith was invited to join the Alumni Council and now serves as vice chair of the Committee on Regional Associations (CORA). “You come to an Alumni Council meeting and you are just blown away by the energy and enthusiasm and talent of its members,” she said. “One of the things I love about being on ACEC (Alumni Council Executive Committee) is meeting other regional association leaders, learning from what they’ve done, and sharing ideas and best practices.”
Last year, when alumni activities had shifted to Zoom, CORA chair Trey Farmer ’93 began the Third Thursday Tiger Talks series. These monthly T-Quads calls addressed different topics, ranging from how to engage the Old Guard to creating community with social media. A recent T-Quad highlighted Orange & Black Day and how to host a regional event for the University’s anniversary on Oct. 22. That meeting helped encourage 51 groups to sign up to host a regional party.
“It’s really helpful for regional association leaders to realize that they’re not on their own, making it up as they go,” Smith said.
Not long ago, an alumna and friend called Smith to tell her about a young woman, Class of 2022, who had just moved to Dallas. Owen Nee passed away in 2021, but his example of alumni ties across generations lives on. Smith contacted the young woman, made some local introductions, and immediately invited her to join the club’s leadership team. “Princeton is the gift that keeps on giving because I continue to find community and opportunities for growth and friendship,” Smith said. “Whether it’s your own classmates — who you get to re-meet in a new way — or somebody as young as the Class of ’22, being part of this family is an invigorating and powerful connection.”