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Former chancellor Randolph W. Bromery dead at 87

Collegian file photo

Randolph William “Bill” Bromery, of Peabody, former chancellor of the University of Massachusetts and Commonwealth Professor emeritus of geophysics, died Tuesday, Feb. 26 in Danvers at the age of 87.

Bromery served as chancellor from 1971-79, leading the University through a dynamic period as he helped to establish a reputation for problem solving and for building both diversity and consensus. He was the second chancellor of UMass after the creation of the three-campus system.

Bromery was born in 1926 to Lawrence Randolph and Edith Edmonson Bromery and grew up in the segregated town of Cumberland, MD. His life in Cumberland would affect his commitment to diversity and social justice later in life.

“Surprisingly, the local racists had the least impact on my father,” wrote Bromery in 2004. “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 teenager, 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 in the U.S. Army Air Corps at 17 and served in World War II with the segregated Tuskegee Airmen. After the war, he earned 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.

In 1948, Bromery began working as an airborne exploration geophysicist and supervisory research geophysicist for the U.S. Geological Survey. He is noted for designing instruments for aeromagnetic surveying.

He joined the UMass geology faculty in 1967, one of only seven African-American professors among the 1,000-person faculty. He and six colleagues founded the Committee for the Collegiate Education of Black Students (CCEBS) to recruit and support black students at UMass. He continued to work on this effort until 1970 when he became the University’s first vice chancellor of student affairs.

Following the sudden resignation of Chancellor Oswald Tippo in 1971, Bromery was named interim chancellor and in 1972 he became chancellor of UMass Amherst. Simultaneously, he was appointed executive vice president for the entire three-campus UMass system.

As chancellor, Bromery continued to advocate for diversity and engagement, arranging to acquire W.E.B. Du Bois’ extensive papers and memorabilia for the University, which are currently housed in the W.E.B. Du Bois Library.

In 1979, Bromery returned to teaching. Following this, he served as leaders of various colleges and higher education establishments, including 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.

Bromery 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 him to the President’s Committee on the National Medal of Science.

“Randolph Bromery was a pioneering scientist and educator whose legacy still resonates daily at UMass Amherst,” Chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy said in a UMass press release.

Subbaswamy added, “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 received nine honorary degrees during his life, including one from UMass in 1979. He also served as president of the Geological Society of America and was named the Nation Academy of Science’s Outstanding Black Scientist in 1997.

Bromery is survived by 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, and a daughter, Carol Ann Thompson of Baltimore, as well as 11 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, according to the press release.

Patrick Hoff can be reached at pphoff@student.umass.edu.

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