Former Columbus College president Francis Brooke remembered as CSU's master planner

mrice@ledger-enquirer.comJuly 25, 2013 

If you enjoy the beauty and shade of Columbus State University's majestic oaks, say a prayer of thanks for Francis John Brooke III.

The former president of the school that was called Columbus College when he served from 1980-87 died Saturday in Richmond, Va. He was 84.

Among his accomplishments at the college, Brooke was responsible for the master plan that laid the foundation for the modern campus on University Avenue -- including those stately trees.

"He planted oaks under which he did not rest, but others did, and that's what we do in education," said Frank Brown, who succeeded Brooke as president and served until 2008, when he retired and current president Tim Mescon was hired.

Brooke is one of only four presidents in the 55-year history of CSU, which started as a junior college in the renovated Shannon Hosiery Mill on Talbotton Road. According to CSU's website, Brooke is credited with the following achievements:

• Led the college during a difficult period of declining enrollments and shrinking state budgets.

• Reorganized the college's administrative structure, which became the basis for CSU's academic colleges, established in 1998.

• Introduced new standards for faculty research and outreach.

• Worked to hire more black faculty and staff.

• Organized the college's first capital campaign, which raised more than $6 million in 1983-1984.

Brown, who was vice president of fiance then, said the campaign soared past the $4 million goal and became the largest private fundraising effort in the city's history at the time.

But conflict came with those changes, and Brooke resigned after the faculty's no-confidence vote.

Brown noted Brooke had a tough act to follow in Thomas Whitley, the college's first president, who served for 21 years.

"Dr. Brooke was faced with taking what had begun as a two-year institution and change it to be more representative of a four-year college," Brown said. "… In fairness to him, he was a scholar and very much a perfectionist, and he had very strong ideas in how things should be done. So there were points of contention, and he made some mistakes, as we all do."

Brooke's cause of death wasn't available.

According to his obituary, Brooke was born March 4, 1929, in Charleston W.Va., a son and grandson of Presbyterian ministers and from a family of prominent Virginians. He was educated at Hampden Sydney College, the University of Chicago and the University of North Carolina, and he earned his doctorate in German literature. He served in U.S. Army Intelligence in Berlin during the height of the Cold War.

At the University of Virginia, Brooke was assistant professor, chairman of the German department, founding director of the Echols Scholars Program and assistant dean of Arts and Sciences. He was executive dean at Center College in Danville, Ky., and the first provost of Virginia Commonwealth University, where he was the initial senior official appointed at its founding in 1968. In this capacity, and later as head of the academic campus he was the driving force behind the university's master plan, laying the groundwork for the urban university seen today -- as he did in Columbus.

After his stint at Columbus College, Brooke worked in Seattle for the Presbyterian Foundation, furthering the mission of the church across Oregon, Washington, Idaho and Alaska. He was an elder in the Presbyterian Church, USA.

Survivors include his wife, Helen, sons Francis John, Haynes Morgan and David Tucker and eight grandchildren.

A private burial was scheduled for Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. A memorial service will be conducted at Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond at 11 a.m. Saturday. Memorial contributions can be made to the Brooke Family Campership Fund for children through the Presbyterian Foundation, 200 E. 12th St., Jeffersonville, Ind., 47130.

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