This article first appeared in The Tartan on October 19th 2010 //
Radford City’s newly elected mayor Dr. Bruce E. Brown is a busy man. His kind demeanor and infectious personality are just two of his many attributes, and he brings a great attitude to his role as mayor. He is a people person, rarely seen without a wide smile on his face.
Not only does he serve as Radford’s mayor, but he is also the Dean of General Education and the Business Division at Wytheville Community College.
“I’m up every morning at quarter ‘til 5,” said Dr. Bruce E. Brown. “I spend half an hour on the elliptical, half an hour reading the newspaper, another half an hour getting a shower and getting ready. Then ten or fifteen minutes to eat, then I’m out the door and on the road to Wytheville by ten ‘til 7. I usually get there by 7:30 and if I leave at 5:30 and get home at 6:00, it’s been a good day.”
His years as a student, an educator, and as a city council member have given him plenty of preparation to step into his newest position, and he uses his experiences and his love for the community as his tools for success in helping run a college town. Dr. Brown believes Radford University is important to Radford City, and the university plays a much bigger part in the community than the average student might think.
Originally from Front Royal, Va., Brown grew up in a traditional middle class family with a father who worked for a phone company and a stay-at-home mom who worked hard raising him, his brother and his sister. His first jobs were picking up trash outside a Tastee Freez and cleaning the pool at a local motel. In high school, he entertained the idea of getting into the funeral business and worked for a local funeral home, which made him consider becoming a pathologist. But his career path changed as he progressed through his college years.
After graduating from high school, he began his studies at Virginia Tech as a biology major, but later decided to go into the Business College, earning his bachelor’s degree in 1973. After a few years working as the Director of Safety and Loss Prevention for FMC Corporation, a chemical manufacturer that operated in Radford at that time, he decided to return to higher education.
Brown was accepted into RU, seeking his master’s in business administration and a minor in community college education, and graduated in 1978. During that time, he interned in a teaching position at New River Community College, in nearby Dublin, Va. Teaching became his full-time job for the next 28 years. He now boasts 32 years of service to Virginia’s community college system.
He didn’t initially imagine himself as a teacher, but soon found out it was a perfect fit. After beginning work on his doctorate at Virginia Tech, he also worked part-time as a professor for RU, Virginia Tech, and Bluefield College.
“I think I’ve always challenged myself,” Brown said. “I didn’t know if my style of teaching would be successful at Radford University, and in particular, Virginia Tech, but it was.”
Dr. Brown thinks part of his success at teaching is due to his approach to students.
“If you know the kids’ names, and you care about them, and you’re credible in what you teach, they like that, because that’s not always what they get,” Brown said.
He continued his studies and received his doctorate from Virginia Tech in 1994.
Along with studying and teaching, Brown spent those two decades between his bachelor’s and doctorate making a family. He married his wife, Cary, who works for RU in Accounts Payable, in 1973. Their daughter Tiffany was born in 1988. They eventually moved to Radford City in 1993.
A proud educator, Brown was first drawn to public office in 2000, when he began attending Radford City Council meetings to support a former student, Gail Collins, who had recently been elected to council.
He began speaking up in meetings, and getting more involved in the community by serving on the Citizens’ Advisory Committee. He saw opportunities to make changes in the community and after some encouragement from others, decided to run for city council and was elected in 2002, as well as 2006. It was during his second term on City Council that he took the dean position at Wytheville Community College.
When five new people ran for city council seats in 2010, Dr. Brown decided he would not seek re-election.
“I thought, ‘Eight years is plenty,’ and I think new people are important, so I had pretty well decided not to run,” Brown said.
He had some people encouraging him, and he still felt like he had something to give. Also, he didn’t want to wait to see if former mayor Tom Starnes, was going to run again. With two weeks left before the deadline to declare his candidacy, Brown entered the race for mayor. He won the election in May 2010.
For Brown, one of the highlights of his time as mayor thus far was a helicopter ride he took during this year’s July 4th celebration at Bisset Park. He says he has an extreme phobia of heights, but “it was a blast.” He also enjoyed engaging in friendly competition with administrators of neighboring Pulaski County to kick off each of their high schools’ football seasons.
“The real highlight of this thing is the people,” Brown said.
The city’s relationship with RU is something that is important to Brown. One of the goals the city is working on in conjunction with RU is a new public transit system, which is set to begin in January 2011. They hope to eventually link the transit system with Blacksburg Transit and connect the entire New River Valley.
As a RU alumnus, and after having taught at RU, Dr. Brown has a very positive working relationship with the university’s administration. He encourages every effort to strengthen the connection between the city and the university.
“Radford wouldn’t be Radford without the university,” Brown said.
He said that after he was elected, President Penelope Kyle invited himself and City Manager David Ridpath to lunch, which is something they hope to continue doing quarterly in a step toward keeping up positive relations with the university.
He was also invited to a reception for Parents’ Weekend, where he joined President Kyle in greeting parents and getting to know more about the campus community.
“President Kyle was very forthcoming about how much she appreciated our relationship and the city’s relationship,” Brown said.
A large part of the connections between the university and the city have to do with volunteering, which is encouraged by student development programs and gets students out into the community and making a difference. There is also a joint University/City Committee comprised of members from the university’s administration, city administration and also citizens of Radford city. That committee is responsible for planning events in the city, like this year’s Highlanders Festival, which the Mayor called a great success. The committee also works with the planning of Quadfest, which helps make the event safer and more manageable.
To Brown, students are key to making Radford the place it is. That’s why he is excited to see so many new businesses springing up in both east and west Radford that are more student focused, and he would like to see more of that. He mentioned several of the restaurants in the downtown area, as well as the new development on Tyler Ave. adjacent to campus, which give students a chance to get off campus and enjoy themselves.
“I’d like to know more of how the students feel about us,” Brown said. “Their involvement in the city is critical, both from an economic as well as a social perspective.”
Brown is looking for a greater community between Radford City and Radford University
“I think that there are great opportunities for students with creativity and initiative to push us a little bit, to say ‘Hey, here are some things, have you considered doing them?’” Brown said.
He also feels like there has been improvement in the relationship between the student body and Radford City Police, noting that he used to hear from people who felt that the police department targeted students and young people, but he doesn’t hear that as much anymore. He says that the officers are getting out and getting to know the students, which creates a healthier and safer environment.
RU has a reputation of being a “party school” Brown said “I think that is a misconception. It’s not true. In the last couple of years that has been worked on, to try and change that.”
He says local people view the university community differently, and with a more positive attitude. “This community understands that if RU wasn’t a big cog of our economic engine, we wouldn’t be Radford City, we’d be Montgomery County or Pulaski County.”
Brown sees the university’s expansion as a wonderful thing for the greater community.
“The College of Business and Economics, for example, is a major boost for employment and use of goods and services in the community,” Brown said. “As the university expands, we like that. Our role is to help make that as seamless and as easy as possible. Expansion and growth is what keeps Radford alive and vibrant.”
The city would like to see RU expand its student population to 12,500 or 13,000 students and Brown points out important steps the university is taking to do that, like offering doctoral programs, expanding master’s degree programs and recruiting community college students. He also pointed out another event, the Spring Jubilee. The event is hosted at RU and brings the Virginia High School League’s spring sports to Radford to compete in state championship games. He feels that the Spring Jubilee is a great opportunity for RU to bring in new student athletes and expand the athletic programs.
Brown says there are many opportunities for student engagement in the community, and he would like to see more partnership in developing initiatives like recycling, and more people taking part in volunteer efforts. He named Pathways, a group that volunteers to provide upkeep to Radford’s biking and walking trails.
He also mentioned last year’s Polar Plunge, which was meant to boost cancer awareness. He said that he would also like to have the Theatre Department try and bring back the outdoor play “The Long Way Home,” which used to run every summer in Radford.
Brown takes a lot of pride in serving the community and he summed up his sentiments with one particular remark.
“Radford is a very tight-knit, proud community, and it is an honor and a privilege that they thought enough of me to do this, and I hope I can live up to it.”