Remembering Keith Brodie: Community mourns passing of the former Duke president
Members of the Duke community gathered to remember the life and legacy of former President Keith Brodie at a memorial service Monday.
Brodie, who was the University's seventh president, passed away early Friday morning at the age of 77. President Richard Brodhead eulogized Brodie, addressing a full Chapel to praise his contributions.
“The Duke we take for granted was made by the work of actual people, and the role of Keith and his presidency of making Duke the one we can now take for granted is something we celebrate today,” Brodhead said in his remarks.
Brodie led important changes to the University, including an emphasis on diversity. The percentage of black students was four percent before Brodie became president in 1985 and nine percent when he stepped down in 1993, Brodhead said. The number of undergraduates receiving scholarships went up dramatically as well, from 20 percent before he began to 40 percent when he left the post.
He also worked to better integrate the hospital and University communities and to bring athletics to Duke. The University had never won a national championship until Brodie’s time as president, Brodhead noted, when the men's soccer team won in 1986.
“Terry Sanford helped tear down the walls that held this University back, but it was Keith Brodie who helped propel out into the newly vacant spaces that helped this place become the great University it subsequently became,” Brodhead said.
Brodie received his undergraduate degree from Princeton University, before attending medical school at Columbia. A psychiatrist by training, he worked at Stanford before becoming chair of Duke’s department of psychiatry at age 35. Brodhead credited him with being a major part of the shift in that field away from talk therapy and toward a scientific understanding of mental illness.
Even as president, Brodie maintained a private persona, Brodhead said, adding that he was a confidante and source of advice for many members of the Duke community. He was devoted to his family—choosing to live off-campus instead of on-campus like other presidents typically have.
“I’ll do anything you make me do during the day as long as I can sleep in my own bed at night,” Brodie was known to say.
Bishop William Willimon, professor of the practice of Christian ministry, delivered the memorial service's sermon. It centered around Colossians 3:12-17, a passage urging people to be kind, humble and filled with compassion. All of these were traits Brodie embodied, Willimon said.
“The greatest tribute to Jesus Christ is a life well lived, a life that’s turned not inward but rather outward toward others, and that’s no small achievement in this culture,” he said during the sermon.
Even as he juggled his presidential duties, Willimon said, Brodie continued to teach—inspiring many students to pursue the medical field. The seventh president filled in as a parental figure for many students and was a good father and grandfather to his own family. Above all, however, Willimon celebrated Brodie's intelligence.
“If this were a eulogy, I would celebrate Keith’s cerebral cortex,” he joked, noting Brodie's knowledge extended from neurobiology to avant-garde art to the Durham Police Department.
Brodie despised goodbyes and was adept at removing himself from events quickly and quietly, Willimon said.
“Keith has left us,” he said. “His quiet, unexpected parting is our grave loss.”