By Cait Kemp
As found through a simple Google search of his name, Dr. Randolph William Bromery was “an American educator and geologist, and a former Chancellor of the University of Massachusetts Amherst.”
It goes on to state that he established the W.E.B. DuBois archives at UMass Amherst, and was involved with starting the Five College Consortium. What is not stated in the initial search is the rest of the outstanding resume Dr. Bromery acquired, along with being the first and only Black president of Springfield College.
Bromery was born in Cumberland, Md. on Jan. 18, 1926. After high school, he joined the U.S. Army Air Corps to become a pilot. He went on to fight in World War II in Italy as part of the 332nd Fighter group, more famously known as the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American flying unit in the U.S. military.
It’s impressive to note that the Tuskegee Airmen were among the most successful and decorated groups of those during WWII in the European theater. Being grouped by race due to the segregation that ensued throughout the country, they proved their ability and skill nonetheless.
After the war ended in 1945, Bromery enrolled at Howard University in Washington D.C. but dropped out to pursue a career as an airborne exploration geophysicist with the U.S. Geological Survey, becoming one of the first African American geophysicists in the country.
It was at Howard University that Bromery met his wife and lifelong partner, Cecile. The couple married in 1947 and had five children together. Mrs. Bromery unfortunately just recently passed away on Jan. 21 of this year at the age of 95, due to complications of COVID-19.
After returning to school and getting his degree, he arrived at the University of Massachusetts Amherst as a professor in 1969 but quickly worked his way up the ranks.
He became Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs, then Chancellor of the university. At UMass, he was able to make a lot of improvements, as he did at every school he was involved with.
One of the largest accomplishments he made during his time there was securing the W.E.B. DuBois papers for the UMass archives. They were highly desired, most challenged by Harvard where DuBois received his second bachelor’s degree.
When Bromery was Chancellor at UMass, Donald Brown was fresh out of college working as the director of the Upward Bound program at the university. He recalls Bromery offering him compassion and encouragement after running into some issues with civil rights demonstrations that were taking place.
“Got myself into some situations at UMass Amherst, I was a young activist as I was at Springfield College in 1969 taking over the administration building, continued doing that even though I was an administrator at UMass Amherst,” said Brown. “Okay, [I] made some mistakes but I think Dr. Bromery recognized, as John Lewis talked about, that I got myself into ‘Good trouble’, I was doing it for the right reasons. Somebody else may have fired me, but Dr. Bromery did not.”
Bromery went on to become president at then Westfield State College in 1988, where he similarly worked to build up the institution.
It was at Westfield State that Dr. Carlton Pickron first met Bromery. Pickron was most recently the Vice President of Student Affairs at Westfield State, retiring in 2019, but remembers his early days as part of the staff when Bromery was president.
“It was an absolutely phenomenal experience to work with such a leader, compassionate, intelligent person with a wide array of life experiences that I couldn’t even imagine,” he said. “So, having him as not only a supervisor but to become a mentor to me, which was absolutely fantastic. The only disappointing part was it was too short.”
When Bromery was president at Westfield, Pickron was trying to get the job of Director of the Career Center. He said that he had applied for this position, but was then asked to go in for a meeting with Bromery.
”[Bromery] said, ‘Well, why I called you here was because I wanted to give you an option’…. I still had no clue what was up or what was going on. He said, ‘I would like for you to be my Assistant to the President,’” said Pickron.
This is just one example of Bromery’s generosity and kindness towards others. He offered a unique position to Pickron because he saw his potential and skill early on in his career.
Pickron noted, “We still continued our relationship with him mentoring me as I went on professionally.”
Bromery wasn’t expecting to become the permanent president of Springfield College; in fact that wasn’t even part of the plan still a year after he had been at the college.
He was asked in 1991 by Walter C. Wilson, chair of the Board of Trustees at SC, to be the interim president while a national search was carried out to find the permanent replacement for former president, Frank Falcone.
It was a period of transition for the school, and they needed a leader that would help to make valuable improvements for the campus and community. As stated in Springfield College: In Spirit, Mind, and Body, Notes and Scenes from Our First 125 Years by Richard C. Garvey and Ronald S. Ziemba, “The task now confronting Bromery was simply stated, but difficult to accomplish: Heal Springfield College.”
In his convocation speech, Bromery said, “I accept the challenge with humility and also with determination… I don’t want you to lose confidence in where you are now, where you have been, and where you are going to go.”
This sense of dedication prevailed, as Bromery did not hesitate to begin the tasks on the to-do list. One of his main goals was to improve communication and relationships within the Springfield College community, as well as with others outside of it.
Early on, Bromery developed a very strong relationship between Springfield College and William N. DeBerry School, which was an elementary school located nearby. It was through this relationship that the Partners Program that is still flourishing today was created, helping many young children to bond and make connections while having the chance to learn.
A big change that Bromery was a part of at SC was the transition to Division III athletics in all men and women sports. His idea was to begin to play against other small, private institutions that shared their ideals of higher academics, while maintaining impressive athletics as well.
He said, “The College has a niche, and athletics is one of the strengths. With the move to Division III, we can begin to schedule schools we should be associated with, academically and athletically.”
Throughout his time at Springfield College, Bromery had to take a medical leave due to radiation he needed for prostate cancer. Away from campus more than intended, he still continued to help the college to make positive improvements to the environment.
Some of these improvements included more stations in the campus computer room, a decrease in the cost of food at Cheney, new turf for Benedum Field, and renovations on Blake track.
However, after a productive six years of leadership with Springfield College, Bromery made the decision to retire in 1997.
He said, “Serving as president has been, [and] will continue to be, a most satisfying chapter in my professional and personal life which I shall always cherish.”
Although his third college administration job, Springfield College was not the end of the line for him. Bromery served as interim president for Roxbury Community College from 2002-2003, helping to build up the programs as he did at the other schools he previously worked at.
Dr. Bromery was a man of many achievements, an “outstanding American,” as said by Pickron. He never seemed to be done working, and he was able to make a distinct contribution to every organization that he was involved in.
“My respect for him is just huge. This man, an American hero who happened to be an African American that has… clearly done great things for our country, for every college and university he has been a part of,” Pickron said.
Bromery passed away in 2013 at age 87 after a lifetime of accomplishment. This year, UMass announced they will be naming the Fine Arts Center after Bromery because of his love of music and efforts that brought famous jazz musicians to the UMass faculty.
Bromery’s contributions will continue to be celebrated at the colleges, universities, and organizations he was a part of, and his name should be remembered within the Springfield College community.
Photo Courtesy of UMass Amherst