A Tribute to Walter Brady

This tribute to Walter Brady was presented by Perry Susskind, professor of mathematics, at the Connecticut College faculty meeting on Feb. 7, 2007.

Walter Foster Brady Jr. was born in 1933, grew up in Larchmont, NY, and received his bachelor's degree at College of the Holy Cross in 1955. He followed this with a stint in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a commissioned officer and sailed the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans aboard a U.S. Navy Destroyer.

Walter then continued his education in mathematics, receiving a master's degree from Harvard University in 1960 and his Ph.D. in Mathematics from Indiana University in 1967. An algebraic geometer, his thesis was in the difficult and abstruse area called class field theory. By the time Walter received his Ph.D., he'd already had wide experience teaching mathematics at institutions including Boston College, Indiana University, University of Notre Dame and University of Connecticut at Storrs.

Walter joined the mathematics fepartment at Connecticut College in 1967 and taught generations of students just about every mathematics subject or course offered by the department. His students remember him fondly as a professor with high standards who was always willing to help them do their best.

A statistician ahead of his time

Early in the nineteen-seventies, Walter became interested in statistics and probability. With energy and zeal he became a highly skilled statistician, bringing this expertise to bear by almost single-handedly providing the department's offerings in statistics, probability and statistical modeling.

The importance of this work is reflected in the College's appointing a full-time statistician seven years ago, in the department's developing both a minor in statistics and a statistics concentration in the major. Recently, several departments have become aware that a statistics course is an important component of their majors. Indeed, Walter was ahead of his time in developing this essential discipline here: nationally, liberal arts colleges and universities now fight to hire inadequate numbers of statisticians to support their burgeoning programs.

Professionally, Walter's stature as a statistician was recognized in1998 with his appointment as a statistical analyst and consultant for the Census Monitoring Board. This board, established by Congress in 1998, was charged with the responsibility of independently analyzing and monitoring the techniques used in the taking of the 2000 census. Walter was alert to the possible unreliability of statistical analyses.

Once, given my interest in aviation and Walter's interest in statistics, I mentioned to him that I thought there must be something wrong with measuring the safety of air travel, compared with other ways of traveling, by using the measure of passenger-miles. You know, if you fill a plane with 150 people and fly them 1000 miles, you have 150,000 passenger-miles. Walter cocked his head, thought for barely an instant and said: "Yes, put five astronauts in the space shuttle, have them orbit the earth a few times and the space shuttle becomes the safest form of travel by that measure. Yet every few launches the space shuttle blows up."

Devoted to the College

Walter's service and his presence at the College were unique. Rather than name the many committees Walter served on I will instead say this: as much or more than anyone else at Connecticut College, Walter vigilantly and selflessly represented and defended the principle of shared governance. As an active member of the American Association of University Professors for many years, and as president of the Connecticut Conference of AAUP from 1993–1997, he understood shared governance as a way of assigning primary authority to different constituencies of the college.

Walter was completely devoted to the College and to serving the College in all of the various ways available to the faculty. He carried out this service without fanfare but with admirable grace and civility even during difficult and contentious times. In 1995, Walter was appointed Faculty Parliamentarian and served in that role, with perhaps one interruption, until his retirement in 2001.

So, there it is: just a glimpse of the teaching, scholarship and service record of Walter Brady, much of which might have been gleaned from his annual reports. There is more. Walter's college file is peppered with letters of thanks and acknowledgement for strikingly generous gifts to the College: gifts to the general fund, but also gifts to purchase Arboretum land, or to repair tennis courts; in a typical case, his gift was over 6% of his gross salary for the year.

There were other forms of generosity and dedication. Though it certainly did not benefit him, he repeatedly provided advice and acted as ombudsman to members of the College community whose contracts had not been renewed or whose tenure was denied or whose tenure was taken away. Those who have been here some time or those who simply enjoy the wonderful green across from Harkness Chapel may recall that it was Walter who was almost solely responsible for getting the planned location of the Admission Building moved from Harkness Green to its present site. In accomplishing this feat, Walter visited virtually every member of the faculty, and after doing so was able to present a petition with almost every faculty signature on it, requesting that the planned location be changed.

Even after Walter retired he lent his assistance to the College by serving on a committee that rewrote substantial portions of IFF, now called Policies and Procedures. The faculty voted these changes just last spring. No one was more scrupulously devoted to providing faculty the means to carry on their business in an orderly way.

'Part of the fabric of the College'

But these remarks do not fully capture Walter's influence on his students, his family and friends, and this faculty. Walter was part of the fabric of the College in a way that may have been commonplace once but is now rare. He was involved in almost every aspect of College life: keeping in touch with students and alumni, attending performances, lectures, and generally being a part of what for him was the exceedingly engaging and complex activity of living a life as a faculty member at Connecticut College.

Walter also was eccentric and had a goofy sense of humor. In social situations with friends and strangers he would every so often stretch the envelope of what constitutes expected behavior. Waiters or salespeople would become increasingly attentive or momentarily disoriented or suspicious, and his friends would smile.

He was a geographical savant. If you mentioned to Walter some obscure, far away place you had been he would say something like: "Oh yes, as you approach you begin to go up a hill and there is a house with pink shutters on the right." He never forgot the smallest details about places he had been and he'd been almost everywhere: he traveled extensively with his partner Gail Shulman, and with family and friends.

Music was an important part of Walter's life and he was an accomplished pianist. He was an uncommonly graceful athlete. It was a pleasure to watch him play tennis, or ski, ice skate or dance. He ran in dozens of marathons and road-races. In his daily life he energetically sought enjoyment of even the simplest occasions and events. If there was a beautiful sunset or a full moon, Walter had seen it. If the flowers were blooming on campus, Walter had admired them, and if there was a brisk southwesterly wind, Walter had been out sailing that afternoon.

A close-knit family

Walter also participated fully and exuberantly in the life of a large and close-knit family. By the count of his nephew Richard, Walter had 45 brothers, sisters, cousins, nephews, nieces, grand nephews and grand nieces He rarely missed a christening, communion, confirmation, graduation or wedding. For roughly seventy years, except during a couple of the World War II years – during gas rationing – the family gathered every August in Chatham on Cape Cod.

Though his family and friends knew Walter had a grave illness, all were surprised by the swiftness of his decline. Diagnosed in July, he died six months later. Driving to Walter's wake two weeks ago, Frederic Henry's words in Hemingway's, A Farewell to Arms, felt apt. "[The world] kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these things it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry."

Walter F. Brady, a dedicated teacher, a colleague of solid character, a loyal friend, loving and beloved partner and family member.

Mr. President, you might guess, given Walter's devotion to the orderly running of faculty business, that it would have been important to him to know that these remarks will be recorded as part of our faculty minutes. Accordingly, I make this request.