November 26th: The Philanthropist

26 Nov

Portland State Music: 30 for the 30th

Name: William Bradford Mersereau Jr.

Instrument: piano

Student of Tomas Svoboda, Norman Leyden, Sergiu Luca, Gene Confer, Sylvia Killman

B.A. in Music Composition-1973

Portland State University

Putting Music Forward

Brad Mersereau’s website is not a typical musician’s website.  In addition to information about his recordings and audioclips of his music, readers will find a Sobriety Anniversary page that documents more than 10,750 collective years of sobriety from 800 individuals;  a sobriety pledge encouraging over 200 young people to honor their “mind, body, and spirit by not smoking, using illegal drugs, or drinking alcohol” before their 21st birthdays;  addiction recovery resources and letters pledging lifelong sobriety from graduates of comprehensive addiction treatment programs.

Ralph Waldo Emerson famously said “the purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”


Putting Skills to Work

Brad played his first gig with a dance band at the Whitman College Alpha Chi sorority in 1969.  He didn’t become a full-time professional musician until more than 20 years later.  The intervening years included a degree in composition from Portland State, an accounting degree from Northwestern College of Business, and jobs as diverse as financial aid officer, hotel night auditor, and mutual fund salesman.

In the early 1990’s, Brad’s parents died, leaving him a substantial inheritance.  Their gift provided Brad the freedom to pursue the full-time music career he had always wanted.  It has been music with a purpose.

In 1999, Brad’s sister Laura Mersereau Pressnall passed away of physical complications from long-term alcoholism.  From this tragic incident arose what has come to be Brad’s mission – to honor the memory of his little sister by finding ways to help people with alcohol and drug addiction. It is a mission in which music has played a central role.

“Laura,” Brad’s first CD project, was dedicated to the memory of his sister, who Brad describes as “a vibrant, gregarious, and love-filled human being.”  Working with well-known Portland jazz musicians Steve Christofferson, Phil Baker and Ron Steen, Brad performs a song-cycle of his own compositions based around the theme of “different seasons, or cycles in the life process.”  His second CD project “Autumn Waltz,” for which he served as co-producer, composer, arranger and pianist, was dedicated to his wife Janet and family friends Peter and Sanya Cowal.

Composing and performing music goes hand-in-hand with what has become Brad’s other work – philanthropy.  In addition to donating the income from both his CD’s to non-profits, Brad and his wife Janet have given away $1,100,000 of their own money to 9 local nonprofits specializing in addiction recovery and prevention.  Their donations have been matched by $1,500,000 from individuals for a total of $2,600,000 going to agencies that try to help people with drug and alcohol addiction.

Brad and Janet donated his sister Laura’s house to initially fund addiction recovery  programs through the YWCA.  This model, which assisted women wishing to break the addiction cycle with transitional housing, education, and resources for lifestyle changes was successful through 2010.

The Mersereau’s have also given large contributions to the Hope House, an addiction treatment program formerly sponsored by a church in North Portland, as well as $140,000 exponentially matched by Central City Concern for a five-bedroom drug-and-alcohol-free house called “Laura’s Place,” with an in-house counselor.

In 2005, Brad and Janet donated more than $310,000 in stock to the Union Gospel Mission of Portland to help it construct a five-story building next to the mission’s current building on the corner of Northwest Third Avenue and West Burnside Street.

Brad dedicates a large amount of his time to local non-profits,  He has served on the boards of William Temple House, and the Terwilliger Plaza Foundation.  He also regularly contributes his pianistic talents to fundraisers and events.  In 2007 Brad established the William Bradford Mersereau Jr. endowed jazz piano/instrumental studies senior year scholarship at Portland State University.  He and Janet co-sponsored with Lines For Life the 2008 Laura Mersereau Memorial Essay Contest. All 125 essays detailing high school students drug-and-alcohol refusal techniques can be accessed through a link on the Community page of his website.

Adding Something Unique

Since 2007, Brad has also found other roles for his music.  He received his first composition and performance credits for two songs that appeared in that year’s Chris Rock movie, I Think I Love My Wife.  Since that time his music has appeared in the Jeff Bridges/J. Timberlake movie The Open Road, and Beverly Hills Chihuahua 3.  TV shows featuring his music include Ugly Betty, Everybody Hates Chris, New Amsterdam, Royal Pains, Heroes, In Plain Sight, The Finder, and the ABC Family Network TV movie, Desperately Seeking Santa.  His composition “Christmas Carol” has been performed by the Columbia Symphony, the Olympia Symphony and the Portland State University Orchestra.

What Has Your PSU Music Experience Meant to You?

“I am supremely grateful to PSU for providing me with the initial Emersonian self-reliant educational building-blocks to find my  eventual vocation and life-voice.  After transferring from Whitman to PSU in the Fall of 1971, I knew within 3 months that I was on the right path!”


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