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Former USF president John Lott Brown dies at 86

TAMPA — John Lott Brown, who served as president of the University of South Florida during some of its most critical growth years, during which the school expanded its curriculum in medicine and the sciences, died Sunday (Jan. 16, 2011) in Ohio. He was 86.

Dr. Brown started his term as the university's third president in 1978, declaring that he would stay 10 years if the school would have him. By the time he stepped down in 1988, USF had established a medical school, an engineering college and the Moffitt Cancer Center.

That same decade, the school increased its research grant money to $23 million from $14.7 million and boosted its enrollment in Tampa and on four satellite campuses to more than 30,000, surpassing Florida State University as the state's second largest.

"He represented the moment when USF changed from a small liberal arts college to being a major research university," said Michael Hoad, USF's vice president of communications.

During his tenure, USF added 38 degree programs, established campuses in Lakeland and Fort Myers and enlarged the USF libraries collection to include more than 1 million books and titles.

"He was there during the critical years, and he himself played a very important role in the intellectual and academic maturation of USF," said Betty Castor, USF's president from 1994 to 1999.

Dr. Brown also courted businesses and was the first USF president to sit on Tampa's Committee of 100 or march in its Gasparilla parade.

His accomplishments came in the midst of several controversies, some of them attributable to normal growing pains of a university, others due to a management style critics called aloof and preferential to the sciences at the expense of liberal arts.

In 1980, he bucked critics by luring two-time NCAA Final Four basketball coach Lee Rose to USF and paying him a six-figure salary.

"That was unheard of at that time," said Harvey Moore, a former USF sociology professor and special assistant to Dr. Brown. "He took all kinds of resentment and push back on campus."

Born in Philadelphia, he earned an electrical engineering degree at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, a master's degree in psychology from Temple University and a doctorate in psychology from Columbia University in 1952.

During his college years, he served in the Navy and then enlisted in the Naval Reserve. He later conducted research for the Navy on the body's ability to withstand space flight.

He met Catharine Hertfelder while at Temple. The couple married and went on to have four children.

He served as the University of Pennsylvania's director of graduate training in the physiology of vision.

In the early 1960s, he took his family to Germany during a sabbatical year at the University of Freiburg. He pushed his children successfully to learn German and enrolled them in German public schools.

He worked as a dean at Kansas State University, then as director of a research center on vision at the University of Rochester before coming to USF in 1978.

During his first few months in office, Dr. Brown weathered political storms of feuding faculty members and uncertainty about state funding, which lagged behind other state universities.

"He was always a man who was not awfully perturbed at things," said Catharine Brown, 86, his wife.

He welcomed input from faculty, but made them prove the efficacy of their positions.

"He was not automatically persuadable," said USF religion professor James Strange, 72. "You really had to make an argument, and he was quick to see if your reasoning was not well-founded."

Said Hoad: "He reacted to ideas. If you wanted a good analysis, he was the best person to talk to. If you wanted the warm-and-fuzzy, he wasn't the best person to talk to. You would only get that when he was impressed."

Some campus and community leaders criticized those people skills, which Hoad called "an engineer's personality" that may have made his last year politically rocky.

"Dr. Brown had a lot of good qualities," former state Rep. Carl Carpenter told the St. Petersburg Times in 1987, as Dr. Brown's stay neared its end. "Lobbying was not one of them."

Dr. Brown had gotten into hot water with State University System chancellor Charles Reed over accreditation problems with USF's College of Medicine, and over some practices by USF's private fundraising foundation. Though Reed said the university had taken corrective actions on both fronts, Dr. Brown indicated to Reed during his 1987 evaluation that it might be time to resign after 10 years.

Francis Borkowski succeeded Dr. Brown as president on Feb. 15, 1988.

But subsequent presidents of USF attribute much of the university's present success to the groundwork Dr. Brown laid in the 1980s.

For example, his efforts led to the founding of the Moffitt Cancer Center on USF's campus.

In 1985, he hired Dr. Robert A. Good, who performed the first successful human bone-marrow transplant, as chairman of pediatrics at the USF medical school.

He is also credited with expanding the growth of the satellite campuses, which today include a Sarasota campus, USF Polytechnic in Lakeland and a fully accredited independent University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

"He was the point person in the development of (the St. Petersburg) campus," said Borkowski, who served as USF's president until 1993, "and set a pattern for me, which I happily followed."

After stepping down as president, Dr. Brown served as interim director of USF's Center of Microelectronics Research.

From 1994-95, he served as interim president for Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts for nine months while the school searched for a permanent leader. Dr. Brown had attended school there and also served as a trustee from 1971 to 1983.

He and his wife moved to Ohio 12 years ago.

Before Alzheimer's disease worsened, Dr. Brown enjoyed reading detective novels and dancing. He will be remembered as an important link in USF's history, said Judy Genshaft, the school's current president.

"I'm very gratified for the years he put in," Genshaft said. "We've been very proud of this school."

This story has been revised to reflect the following correction: In an earlier version of this story, the name of former USF pediatrics chairman Dr. Robert A. Good was misspelled.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Richard Martin contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at or (727) 892-2248.


John Lott Brown

Born: Dec. 3, 1924

Died: Jan. 16, 2011

Survivors: wife Catharine; daughters Patricia Hale and her husband, Scott; Judith Brown and her husband, John Dombrowski; Barbara French and her husband, Roger; son Anderson Brown and his wife, Grisell Rodriguez; six grandchildren.

Service: To be held at a later date in Ohio.

Former USF president John Lott Brown dies at 86 01/17/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 11:51am]
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