AMHERST, Mass. – Randolph Wilson “Bill” Bromery, of Peabody, chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst from 1971-79 and Commonwealth Professor emeritus of geophysics, died Feb. 26 in Danvers, Mass. He was 87.
Bromery led the university through one of the most dynamic, and sometimes turbulent, periods in its 150-year history, establishing a reputation for problem solving and for building both diversity and consensus. Following his retirement as chancellor and executive vice president in 1979, Bromery went on to lead Westfield State, Springfield College and Roxbury Community College, retiring in 2003.
“Randolph Bromery was a pioneering scientist and educator whose legacy still resonates daily at UMass Amherst,” said UMass Amherst Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy. “He worked diligently to expand educational opportunities for black students in the 1970s and later led campus efforts to acquire the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, which are now regarded worldwide as an important resource for researchers. His lifelong commitment to higher education was demonstrated through his willingness after retirement to lead several public and private colleges as well as the Commonwealth’s higher education system. All of us in the UMass Amherst community mourn his passing.”
Bromery’s oldest son, Keith, said, “Dad is an inspiration for everyone and the perfect role model for a life well-lived from both the personal and professional perspectives. The quality of his love, affection and devotion to family and friends mirrors the professional aspects of his life as an exploration geophysicist and university and college professor, administrator, chancellor and president. His impact over the past 87 years will survive all of us as an enduring legacy.”
Bromery was born in 1926, the second child of Lawrence Randolph and Edith Edmonson Bromery, and grew up in a still-segregated Cumberland, Md., an experience that would continue to influence his commitment to diversity and social justice.
Recalling the impact of segregation on his family in 2004, he wrote “Surprisingly, the local racists had the least impact on my father. Legal segregation was well marked, clear and simple. It was coping with the so-called ‘liberal’ white population in town and the condescending and patronizing attitudes they displayed ... that significantly impacted my father. As a young teen-ager, it nearly drove me to the brink of insanity when I witnessed these frequent patronizing and condescending verbal exchanges between my father and his so-called white liberal employers and other white residents.”
Bromery enlisted at 17 in the U.S. Army Air Corps and served with the segregated Tuskegee Airmen during World War II. He went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics at Howard University, a master’s degree in geology and geophysics at American University and a Ph.D. in geology and oceanography at Johns Hopkins in 1968.
Beginning in 1948, Bromery worked for nearly 20 years as an airborne exploration geophysicist and supervisory research geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey, noted for designing instruments for aeromagnetic surveying. He joined the UMass Amherst geology faculty in 1967.
Bromery’s impact on the campus was almost immediate, as he became one of seven African-American professors among 1,000 faculty and just 36 African-American students among 14,000. He and six colleagues founded the Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black Students (CCEBS) to recruit and support black students. It was an effort that he continued after he was appointed in 1970 to be the campus’ first vice chancellor of student affairs. Bromery and his wife, Cecile, later established an endowment to fund graduate fellowships and undergraduate scholarships for minority students to pursue studies in geosciences and earth sciences.
In 1971, following the sudden resignation of Oswald Tippo, Bromery was named interim chancellor. In April 1972 he became only the second chancellor of UMass Amherst since the creation of the three-campus system. He was simultaneously appointed executive vice president for the system.
As chancellor, Bromery continued to be an advocate for diversity and engagement, turning to one of his childhood heroes, W.E.B. Du Bois, in arranging to acquire Du Bois’ extensive papers and memorabilia, which are housed in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library at UMass Amherst.
Bromery returned to teaching in 1979. He was subsequently asked to serve as interim president of Westfield State College from 1988-90, chancellor of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education from 1990-91, president of Springfield College from 1992-97, and president of Roxbury Community College from 2002-03.
He also served as a trustee of Johns Hopkins University, Mount Holyoke College and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and sat on the boards of at least eight major corporations, including Exxon, the Singer Company, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and the John Hancock Life Insurance Company. In 2003, President George W. Bush appointed Bromery to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science.
A dedicated saxophonist and lifelong student of jazz, Bromery listed meeting the pianist Eubie Blake at UMass Amherst as one of his most treasured moments as chancellor. He also helped to recruit jazz legends like Max Roach, Archie Shepp and Fred Tillis to the faculty.
He was the recipient of nine honorary degrees, including one from UMass Amherst in 1979. He also served as president of the Geological Society of America and was named the National Academy of Science’s Outstanding Black Scientist in 1997.
Bromery leaves his wife of 65 years, the former Cecile Trescott, and four sons, Keith M. of Tallahassee, Fla., Dennis R. of Amherst, David T. of Ellicott City, Md., and Christopher J. of Lynn, Mass., and a daughter, Carol Ann Thompson of Baltimore, 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Calling hours will be Wednesday, March 6 from 4-8 p.m. at Douglass Funeral Service, 87 North Pleasant St. in Amherst. A memorial service will be held at UMass Amherst in the spring.
Memorial gifts may be made to the Bromery Endowment Fund for the Du Bois Center, UMass Amherst Libraries, Development Office, 154 Hicks Way, Amherst, MA 01003-9275.