ï"¿Ren Harman: I'll say for the recording.
Bud Brown: My three things, the mic is always on, the media is not your friend,and nothing is off the record. This is what they told us when the fire storm team came in during the week of the shootings, and there were several of us who got involved with that.
Ren: Right. I definitely want to talk about that. I will say for the sake of therecording, good afternoon. This is Ren Harman, the Project Director for VT Stories. Today is April 3, 2018 at about 12:08 PM. We are in the Holtzman Alumni Center on the campus of Virginia Tech with a very special guest. This is the only time that I will prompt you, but if you can just state in a complete sentence my name is, when you were born, and where you were born.
Bud: My name is Ezra Brown. Everybody calls me Bud. I was born January the 22nd,1:001944 in St. Joseph's Hospital in Reading, Pennsylvania. I grew up in New Orleans.
Ren: So you were born in Pennsylvania, you grew up in New Orleans. What was lifelike growing up as a child in New Orleans?
Bud: Just simply wonderful. I lived with my mother and her parents, Grandma andGrandpa until I was 6 years old when my mom remarried and moved in with my new daddy, Lee Brown. Life in New Orleans was just -- for a little kid and for a teenager growing up in the late 40s and early 50s it was a wonderful place. And I had the extra benefit of having grandparents, I lived with my grandparents and 2:00my mom. My mom was working and in her spare time looking for me a father and her a husband. I think one thing that helped me along the way is that I always knew there was at least one person in the world at one time who thought I could do no wrong, and that was my grandmother. My grandma was wonderful. Grandma taught me to read when I was 2, and she was blind. She had an eye disease and she had had the last operation and she became blind at the age of 60, and that's not much fun. 3:00
She saw me when I was a baby, but by the time I was a year and a half shecouldn't see anymore. And the last operation failed, and she was distraught, and she was sitting around the house feeling sorry for herself, you know. "Come on Bertha," and she'd just grumble. She got what Uncle Remus would call the mopes. So Grandpa and Mom figured out a way for her to get her mind off her troubles, so they said, "Bertha, we've got a project for you." She said, "What is it?" They said, "You are going to teach your grandson to read." "Wait a minute, he's only 2 years old." "Is your grandchild or is he not the smartest little boy in the world?" Well she bristled at that. "There's another problem." "What is it?" 4:00"I'm blind." "We didn't say it would be easy," and then they left. She succeeded. She did it. She figured it out. Nothing succeeds like disaster. Here it is, a disaster. What does she do? If this were a class I would have you guess and the rest of the people in the class guess, and sometimes they guess right, very rarely. What she did was she got a box full of plastic letters, because she could read when she was sighted, and she could feel the letters, and she would spell out words and that's how I learned to read by spelling. She put down, I can remember it like it was yesterday, g-r-a-n-d-m-a and said, "And this spells and I spelled it out, "Grandma." And she says, "And you take out the 'm' and you put in the 'p' and that spells Grandpa." I said, "Oh," and then I could read. 5:00You change one letter, it's a different person. That was what living with those people was like.
Ren: You talked about your grandmother and this nickname of Bud.
Ren: Can you tell that story?
Bud: I was about a month old in my crib and grandma was visiting me and shelooked at me and she said, "Oh, he has a face like a rosebud." So, I was either going to be a sled in a movie or my nickname would be Bud, and I was called Buddy as a kid, just like Buddy Russell, except I changed it to Bud later on, just like Bud Robertson.
Ren: Did you spend your entire childhood, teenage years in New Orleans?
Bud: In New Orleans until I graduated from high school, yeah.
Ren: Can you tell me about when you were in high school, what kind of things6:00were you interested in? What did you get involved in - sports, extra-curricular activities?
Bud: I was always interested in music. My mother was a pianist, a classicallytrained pianist, accompanist. She had a trained voice. She was an alto. She loved singing classical music. She was convinced in fact that all of the music that Johannes Brahms wrote for the alto voice was written for her. I tried to object that Brahms died 23 years before my mother was born and she said, "So?" But anyway, I had this love of music and growing up in New Orleans where there was music everywhere, on the radio stations in addition to the usual pops top 20 in the early 1950s (which was white folks singing songs for other white folks), 7:00there were four or five other stations on the dial. And my friend upstairs, who became our best man, after school he would come home by himself, I would go upstairs with him, and the maid would be there and the maid would have the radio tuned to WBOK or WMRY or one of the stations that played what we now call rhythm and blues. And I got to where I really enjoyed that music, and I was there at the birth of rock and roll, and that's the music that stirs me the most.
Ren: Who are some of your favorites?
Bud: Oh gosh. [Laughs] Oh gosh. Well, there is the source, that's Bill Haley andthe Comets, there's the King. You know who that is. 8:00
Bud: The Poet Laureate, Chuck Berry; the Screamer, and that was Little Richard.The Wild Man, that was Jerry Lee Lewis, Killer; and others like that. Rock and roll -- and the Fat Man of course, Fats Domino -- that music just spoke to me and it still speaks to me.
Ren: Yeah. I was fortunate to see B. B. King when he was here in Burruss a fewyears ago.
Bud: Yeah. I saw, he was there once...I saw him once when he was there.
Ren: You talked about music, and how important was education in terms of was itsomething your mother and your grandparents and then later I guess your stepfather, was it something that they expected a lot?
Bud: Absolutely, absolutely. People talk about privilege, I am an9:00extraordinarily privileged person, through nothing I did. I was born white, male, and straight in a city that was exciting and vibrant and had a lot of music, and my grandfather was a teacher of Hebrew and the Hebrew language, and he taught in a Hebrew school. My mother taught music, and when my grandmother was a young woman she taught at the Settlement House in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She taught cooking and she taught various other domestic arts as they call it, and everybody in my family was educated. Most of them went to college. My mother 10:00and all of her first cousins went to college and this was expected of the family from which I came, which I think of as my mother's mother's family, the Schefrins, and so of course I was going to go to college.
I went to high school and that was an interesting thing. When my mothergraduated from college she got a job at a prep school in New Orleans named Isidore Newman School, more famous for the likes of Peyton Manning and Eli Manning who went there, and Michael Lewis who wrote Moneyball and the Blind Side, and a few other famous folks. And when I started school in kindergarten I got a break on tuition because mom was a teacher, and otherwise we couldn't have afforded it. So I went to this fancy prep school with a bunch of fancy preppies 11:00and prepettes and folks like that. I didn't know anything...we had modest means and some of my friends' families were wealthy. But I understood real early that troubles don't know class. Trouble strikes them and we all had our difficulties in growing up. I was fortunate enough to have wonderful friends. I was always interested in mathematics, always interested in math, especially numbers. So I graduated from high school, taught myself to play the piano when I was 16. That's a long story that I won't bore you with now. Maybe I will bore you with it later. 12:00
Bud: And then I went to Rice University in Houston, Texas. What did I expect?What did I want out of going to college? That's very easy, I wanted to meet girls and I had very little work ethic. I was getting by on my brain and sooner or later it had caught up with me and you have to start working. And at the times when I really learned how to work, my motivation was fear. You're not going to graduate if you don't pass these courses. You will flunk out. Oh, it's 1965. 'Your sorry head is going to go to Vietnam and in five weeks you'll be dead,' says the little voice in my head. So Ezra Baby, you had better get on the stick.
Ren: When you decided to attend Rice University did you know that you wanted to13:00major in math? How did that happen?
Bud: Well, it was an interesting process. When I started out I wanted to be achemist, because I really enjoyed chemistry in high school, and so at Rice, I took chemistry. The teacher was boring. He was boring. He was so boring. He could have made the subject exciting and then I would have been a chemist, but he made it boring. So the second year I said, well okay, I'll take geology. I'll try geology. And the man who taught geology (it was 8 o'clock in the morning) talked in a monotone and it was likewise boring. So I said, all right, what's 14:00left? The third time is a charm, so I said, okay, math. And I was fortunate enough to happen upon a faculty member towards the end of my second year, my sophomore year, I was wandering around the halls in the math building and I looked in there. He looked out and he saw me kind of looking puzzled and he said, "May I help you?" I said, "Sure." And he helped me. He planned out my last two years in college. This was in 1963. Roughly 45 years later I met him at a math meeting. He had left Rice and gone to Syracuse and was a faculty member there and I was able to thank him. And that's one of the things I am grateful for was being able to thank my teachers. Sometimes I waited, but the ones that I 15:00wanted to thank I have thanked.
But anyway, I majored in math. It was not easy. Math isn't -- all right, math --listen out there folks, math is not hard, but it's complex. Those of you out there in the world who are taking calculus and have no idea why you're taking calculus, because when am I going to use this stuff, all these integrals? Think of it as training. Suppose you're going to play lacrosse. What do you do? You do a bunch of stick handling exercises and you run and you do side steps and you run through cones and you learn how to knock people down without appearing to 16:00and various other tricks, or if you're in soccer you do drilling exercises. Now when you go out on a soccer field or on the lacrosse field or a rugby pitch or whatever, you're not going to do those exercises, you're going to play. And the exercises help you play better, and the more exercises you have, you know, if you have the talent and the interest, the better you will get. And that's why you take calculus, which brings up another story, but I'll tell that in the proper sequence.
Ren: [Chuckles] Okay. So you graduated with a bachelor's degree in math fromRice University in what year, was that 1965?
Ren: And then I guess kind of about this time you met your wife, I believe.
Bud: Yeah. Where did you dig all that up? You have your sources, okay. So I got17:00into LSU graduate school, and again, I was most fortunate. That was the only graduate school I applied to considering my record at Rice, which was pretty abysmal, that I could get into, because LSU in Baton Rouge, there are a couple of things that I did not know about the LSU Math Department. First of all, they had gotten a Center of Excellence Grant and had a whole bunch of money to give to graduate teaching assistants. And the other thing I didn't realize was that LSU had a very high opinion of Rice University graduates, and so they would take a transcript from Rice and raise every grade by a letter. So instead of having a marginal C average (I wouldn't have graduated from Virginia Tech by the way. They did grade point averages), I got in and I got a teaching assistantship. 18:00
So I went to LSU and enrolled in graduate school, along with a couple of otherguys I had known and in my dorm, one who had grown up in Baton Rouge. He was my landlord and he and his wife were matchmakers. It came about like this -- they invited me to a party one Friday night and I was in a fairly rotten mood and I didn't want to go to a party. "I don't want to go anywhere." He said, "Oh come on, come on. Come to the party. You will meet some interesting people. Have a few drinks. Have a few laughs. You can even drive yourself home. You can drive yourself here and then you can leave whenever you want, and you can go home and hide under the bed, we don't care, but just come to the party." So I went to the party and they introduced me to the three hostesses who were three graduate 19:00students, and I met the first one and I said, "Hello. Hi, how are you?" And I met the second one, and I said to myself, "Oh, oh." And then I said, "Oohh. Hmm." And I began to chase her around the room. About 90 minutes later I cornered her and asked her for a date. She said, "Yes," and I said, "For tomorrow night?" And she said, "Yes." By the way, she had a date the following night, but she called the guy up in the morning and broke it.
Ren: Oh wow.
Bud: So I figured what happened was I looked at her and I said, "Oh, oh boy.Hmm." And she said, "Hmm. Yeah, you'll do." And that was December 10, 1965 and 20:00we got married in June 1, 1967, and 50 years later to the day I retired.
Bud: We are now in the 51st year of our trial marriage. We expect it will last,but if it doesn't last, you know they can't say we didn't give it the old college try.
Ren: [Laughs] That's great.
Bud: A lovely woman. I was very fortunate to meet her, and I hope she feels thesame. If she hadn't she would have thrown me out years earlier. So that happened and that made life very pleasant from then on.
Ren: So you graduated with your masters in math from LSU and then your doctoratein math?
Bud: Doctorate, right, masters in '67 and a PhD in '69. In the spring of 1969,21:00well, it was clear I was going to finish my dissertation. I had broken the problem in half and just kicked the living tar out of it. I was writing my results and thinking: Well maybe you might want to think about a job. Get a job? A job, yes, a job. Okay. So one of my colleagues who was also in the job market said, "You're applying for positions, right?" "Yeah, sure." "Well have you considered VPI?" And I said, "VPI?" And I knew it wasn't VMI, all you Hokies out there, but what I knew about VPI was that there was a professional football player named Caroll Dale who was a star wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers 22:00who had graduated from Virginia Tech, and also VPI and VMI used to play a football game on Thanksgiving Day, and that was all I knew. And my friend said, "They have a dynamic young president named T. Marshall Hahn and he is building that place up and we have a good chance to get in on the ground floor of something really exciting, so I said, "Okay." So I applied. I sent them a letter and sent three references and they hired me, sight unseen, no interview, and I said, "Okay," so I came here, and it was scary.
Ren: [Laughs] I want to ask you about the first time that you saw the campus atVirginia Tech. I assume that's when you had already accepted the job and came here.
Bud: Oh yeah.
Ren: Do you remember that day, like what the campus looked like?23:00
Bud: Yes, certainly.
Ren: How you felt?
Bud: Yes, certainly. The three of us got up that morning after we arrived and wegot in the car and we drove up and down Main Street and we couldn't find what we were looking for. And what we were looking for, you might be amused at this, what we were looking for was the downtown, and we were going up and down and my wife said, "Oh, I think this is the downtown." I said, "You've got to be kidding?" She says, "No, look, look, there's a drugstore on the corner. There's something called the Corner Drugstore." I says, "I know it's a corner drugstore." She said, "No you don't understand: it's called the Corner Drugstore." It was a Rexall Drugstore right where Moe's is, yeah. I said, "This 24:00is the downtown? Hmm. What have I gotten myself into?"
And you know, we drove onto campus, the three of us. Our son had really noreaction at all, being 7 weeks old at the time.
Ren: Is this Ben?
Bud: This is Ben, the oldest, our older child, and the place looked just soaustere. We walked up and down and saw the buildings along Kent Street, Barringer and Newman and Vawter, and walking along and saw all those grim-looking buildings. They were austere. They were made out of this funny limestone, but there was something familiar about it. LSU, the school I 25:00graduated from, was also a land-grant school and the center of campus was a very large area, an open area called the Parade Ground, and that was something familiar. We got there, and we saw this very large opened area that they called the Drillfield. I said, "Hmm. Oh, that's interesting." But I suspended judgement, and it was a small town and I just didn't know if I wanted to stay here or not.
Well, a number of things caused me to stay, but one of them was that the jobmarket all of a sudden got very, very tight, so I started here and I started teaching. That was in the fall of 1969 and therein lies a tale. 26:00
In the fall of 2005 my parents had come up here because they were rudelyexpelled from New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, so they came up here. We brought them up here and they were living in Warm Hearth, and we were very fortunate to find a place for them.
Bud: So a short time later, my wife and I took my mom and dad out to a Sundaybrunch. I think there was something else going on. There's always something happening at the Alumni Center and at the Inn. I think that the year that the Inn opened?
Bud: It hadn't been opened very long. This was in the fall, and I was in line27:00getting a plate. I was going to get a plate and get some food, it was the buffet line, and there's this guy standing in front of me, and he looks back at me and keeps looking back at me and then turns to the woman next to him, who was clearly his wife, and he says, "That's him. I tell you, that's him." She says, "You mean?" He says, "Yes, that's him." And I says to myself, huh? What's going on here? Well, I said, "What?" And he said, "Excuse me for asking, sir, but did you teach calculus in the fall quarter of 1969?" "Why yes, I did. Why do you ask?" And he said, "Do you remember what you did when you came in with the first 28:00test that we took that quarter?" And it all came back and I said, "You mean did I walk into the class with your blue books, throw them into a trashcan and say, 'I don't care if you people never learn any calculus at all. I just want you to learn how to think.'" He said, "Yeah, did you say that?" Said, "Yeah, it was me."
Right away I had always wanted my students to think, to use their heads. Andwhen I started in graduate school teaching as a GTA that's what I wanted. The subject matter was secondary to their learning how to think, how to question 29:00assumptions, how to follow-up with proof, how to think logically. That first calculus class gave me an idea that well, you know, maybe these students are worth worrying about. That first class was an astonishing bunch of people, and I was just out of graduate school and I was so hard-nosed you flat would not believe it. The grade distribution was 1-A, 3-Bs, 6-Cs, 10-Ds, and 5-Fs. I still remember it.
Bud: The A was a freshman whose name was Bruce Denardo, graduated as a physicsmajor with a 3.6 or 7 average, and he was an All-South linebacker, so my best student as a football player. 30:00
Ren: That first semester.
Bud: Yeah, and that impressed me. I said, "Whoa, there's something going onhere." I thought well maybe this place is good, and I began to adjust, but you know, I really like the big cities and so forth, but I was wondering, well, would I really like this place? What are the students like? They seemed to be like the students at LSU. And the second-year in the fall quarter I taught honors calculus up in Davidson Hall in the top. You would climb up on the roof. No, it was close, 407 Davidson. And I walked into this class. It was 9 o'clock and I remember there were 24 students in this honors calculus class. And I'll tell you Ren, the atmosphere when I walked in was electric. I saw just students who had their lights on, somebody was home and they were ready to rock and roll 31:00and the atmosphere was electric. I saw one kid in the front row, second from the end, and I looked at him and I said, "He is going to be the best student in this class," and he was. His name was Dan McGrath, graduated as a physics major and has had a long career in physics and probably retired by now. Good for him.
I am still in touch with several of the students who were freshman in 1970. Twoof them are on campus. That was the class that convinced me that hey, maybe this here Virginia Tech (the summer before it had changed its name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University) and and and and, well I stayed. I 32:00liked it. My wife had made friends and I had made friends and there was really an interesting group of young professors, young assistant professors in the Math Department, and we had a nice social life and had another kid, and the kids later had friends, and we decided eventually this was a good place to raise kids. So I went and published like mad and got tenure.
Ren: The rest is history, right?
Bud: Well yeah, well the rest is math, so that's right.
Ren: Two sons, Ben and Daniel?
Bud: Ben and Daniel, yeah.
Ren: One goal of VT Stories is to really capture peoples' experience withmentorship and advising as a student here at Virginia Tech. When I was doing a little bit of research you talk about, well one you talk about you didn't think you would have a career as a math professor, but what really kind of inspired you in a way? Was it the professors and mentors that you had? You also said you 33:00read biographies or interviews of famous mathematicians, and there's always someone in there who mentored them.
Ren: I know you've mentored tons of undergraduate, masters, doctoral students,some of your colleagues that you've taught and then have been hired on as faculty members. Can you talk a little bit about advising and mentorship and kind of how that affected you as a graduate student and later as a professor and now as someone with a career of 48 years?
Bud: Yes. At LSU, there were some hard-nosed professors, young hotshots whodidn't understand that their job was not to show us how smart they were, but their job was to show us how smart we are. But the second year I was in graduate school I had a professor who taught a subject called Complex Analysis, and he 34:00took a special interest in me and he encouraged me, would offer me help. He decided that I was probably worth investing a little time in, and that second year I met another professor who took more of an interest in me and started talking to me about maybe writing a dissertation under him in number theory.
So after I failed my qualifying exam for the PhD -- that's right -- I spent 21/2months writing a masters thesis and learning all of the mathematics that I should have learned the first two years of my graduate school career. I took the 35:00exams again and this man that taught Complex Analysis asked the first question. And the first question was something that it turned out I knew very welland I said, "If I can't answer this I don't really belong in this subject." And so I answered it and I answered the obvious follow-up question. They kept me in there for 21/2 hours. They qualified me and then I started working for the other professor who had suggested that I work with him.
Bud: There were a couple of others who took an interest in me. One of them wasanother assistant professor in number theory who left LSU a few years later and had a long career at the University of Houston. 36:00
We had talked over the years about those who didn't think that I would amount tomuch, and he found out I had been named an Alumni Distinguished Professor of Mathematics, he wrote me and said, "I am chuckling and laughing with great glee and lording it over you know who and you know who who thought that you wouldn't amount to much." But mentoring, if you don't pay it forward you're not doing your job. I've described what I do. My job as I saw it as a college professor was to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
Bud: What does that mean? Well, there are a lot of people who take mathematics37:00who just don't get it or are just having a difficult time. And sometimes the difficulty, many students would come in asking for help, and they would start tearing up. And I would say to myself hmm, hmm. And I would say, "This isn't about math, is it?" They would start crying. It's a perception that you have if you are sensitive to your students, and a lot of people have that. I'm not unique. But then I would talk to them about it. I would say, "Look, you have something that's bothering you, something else, something big. You can tell me 38:00about it if you want, but until and unless you clear that up, your academic progress is going to be put on hold," and sometimes they would tell me. One of my advisees back in the 1980s, this is more than 30 years ago, was young, bright, a bright student, B average, not an A average, but certainly smarter than the average Hokie.
And she came into the office and said, and she was struggling with class, Isaid, "What's up?" She said, "During the Thanksgiving holidays," (this was right 39:00after Thanksgiving) "I came out to my parents and they threw me out of the house." Now, what do you do? Well, there were various people I could call, and I called one of them, and I said, "XX, you need to talk to this person," and I handed her the phone and they made an appointment and they got together. What the students go through is what everybody goes through. Sometimes some really terrible things happen in their lives.
Bud: One student came in, she was a very bright student taking my History of40:00Math class and she was just looking completely distraught. I said, "What's going on?" And she said, "I've had a diagnosis of stage 4 ovarian cancer." I picked up the phone, called Joanne Underwood who was in Shiffert and said, "Joanne you need to talk to this young women, and I will even leave the office." I said to her, "You want me to leave?" She says, "You can stay." "I think it would be better if I left," so I left. Then what happened was that Joanne advised her to go get a second opinion from a doctor in the town where she lived, and it turned out that it wasn't stage 4 at all. It was maybe stage 1 or 2, and it was 41:00treated, and she's been cancer free since 1990.
Bud: Her daughters have now graduated from college. She went on to teach highschool mathematics and received a teaching award, and married a Blacksburg local boy.
Ren: So there's something to be said about professors and mentors, this ethicsof care, and so I've come out of the School of Ed so I've read a lot of Nel Noddings and things like that, who talks about teaching is a very caring profession even at the collegiate level.
Ren: And unfortunately, and there are a lot of professors who really care abouttheir students, but you really seem to put that forefront in your philosophy in how you teach. 42:00
I assume a lot of that obviously came from your graduate training and just maybeyour personality. It's pretty awesome because you don't think that I think a whole lot.
Bud: Well, I can relate to the students who have failed, who have not succeededor literally failed a class, because that's what happened to me. My first semester of my senior year in college I failed two classes. I had to take 19 hours and get at least a C average to graduate. I did somehow. And so if you are a person who has succeeded in high school, a valedictorian or higher rank and gone to college and done well, it's maybe less likely that you will understand 43:00how people can't understand your subject.
Bud: But I remember how hard it was, some of the subjects, and I look back onthose subjects and I ask myself what in the world was so hard about it. And what was so hard about it was that I wasn't applying myself or didn't have what we call in the trade mathematical maturity. Which means that you begin to see that mathematics isn't just a collection of problems, that it's a way of looking at the world, whatever it is. You can develop that and by the time you're a junior or a senior, in some way earlier, you get it. I mean you have teenagers who are 44:00mature mathematicians writing award-winning research papers and that sort of talent strikes at birth, but the ones who really love the subject but it takes them a while to get going, these are commonly known as late bloomers. I am a late bloomer. My wife is a late bloomer. Our sons are late bloomers. Our granddaughter, I think, she's already bloomed, but you know. So, you understand. I think it's empathetic. You have empathy, and there's a whole lot to be said for being kind. As I said before, our job as college professors is not to show 45:00students how smart we are. Our job as college professors is to show our students how smart they are, because they are. They just don't know it yet.
Ren: Yeah. Exactly. One thing that I want to get to, and you mentioned this acouple of times, as you started here in 1969 and you retired in 2017, that's 48 years, in this 48 years you were recognized with all kinds of awards, the Edward S. Diggs Teaching Scholar Award, William E. Wine Award, and an award from the Mathematical Association of America. There's a ton here. Researchers in number theory, cryptography, combinatorics. I don't even know what that is.
Bud: The art and science of counting.
Ren: And the history of mathematics.
Ren: Out of all these awards and research that you've participated in, you have46:00obviously publications, books, everything, what are some of your favorite memories or experiences from this long extensive productive award-winning career? Is there a couple that really stick out in your mind?
Bud: Well, getting to know a couple of the outstanding mathematicians of thelast century in number theory and in combinatorics was a real treat. Somehow or other I was writing, the mathematics I was writing, I was doing back in my early career caught the interest of a couple of well-known researchers and they 47:00encouraged me. I got invited to a fancy research conference in Rome. I was an assistant professor and again, "What am I doing here?" Well, something. What I was doing was something, I didn't know what.
Bud: I had one of the best things that ever happened to me in the winter quarterof 1982; I taught number theory, which is my specialty. And the kindest thing to say about that course, that class, was that it was a disaster. It got much worse than that. I was terrible. I really was. 48:00
Bud: And the students, now these were Virginia Tech students. There were somepretty sharp knives in that there drawer and they took great pains, they took considerable pains on their evaluations, the comments especially. What a skunk, a low-life, you were ill-prepared, you were disorganized, rude, evil, wicked, mean, bad, and nasty and you smell bad too, you know, that sort of thing.
Bud: And I was just distraught, so I took the student evaluations home and Iburned them in the fireplace. But you can't burn the words. So I had to do something about it. So again I sought advice from my really good friend, Charles 49:00J. Dudley, known as Jack, who was a sociologist. He and I actually wrote a paper together and we had been good friends since he came here in 1974, and in 1987 he had just received the Alumni Teaching Award, which is awarded every year to two faculty across the entire campus. This was over the summer. This was summer of 1987. I said, "You know, Jack, I don't want to win any teaching awards or anything like that, I would just like to improve my teaching." And he looked at me and he laughed, he says, "Bud, get your ego out of it." "What?" "Get your ego 50:00out of it." "Well, is that all it is?" He said, "Well it's a start." I said, "Well what do you mean?" He says, "Okay, hy do you care so much about what your students think of you?"
Ren: Yeah, right.
Bud: He said, "Look, during a ten-week academic quarter you're teaching athree-credit course. That's 30 hours, 30 hours. You spend that much time 51:00sleeping in five days, and that nice girl of yours is right there next to you. What does it matter what they think?"
And I said, "Oh." Remember the last time you said 'oh'? Something happens. Thoseare the moments of clarity. You have those oh moments. They aren't aha or whoopee or oh no! Just a quiet little moment that in the Sufi religion is between when you breathe in and when you breathe out. It's that moment of stillness. And you get to yourself and all of a sudden you understand a whole lot of things and they fall into place.
Ren: Right, right.
Bud: And I said, "Oh," and he said, "Okay Bud, we're going to have a little test52:00and I'm going to ask you three questions. First question: what is important in your classroom?" I said, "The students." "Very good, Bud, you're doing fine. One out of one. All right, what else is important in your classroom?" I said, "Uh, the mathematics, whatever it is I'm teaching, the subject matter." He said, "Fine, Bud." He said, "All right, this is the last question, what's not important in your classroom?" I said, "Me." He said, "Go get them kid. You're on your way."
Bud: Getting your ego out of whatever it is that you're doing, get your ego out53:00of the product. If you're a researcher get your ego out of the final results. Concentrate on what you're doing. The results will come. If you're a teacher you have to think about the students. You have to think about the subject matter, and you have to figure out the best possible way to get them to learn, encourage them to learn. I talked with some other award-winning teachers. I talked with... Now, what happens when you get older you can't remember names.
Bud: That's right.
Ren: That's okay.
Bud: It was Greg Justice, a colleague in theater, who has gone all over the54:00country teaching acting, whatever it is, it's acting, and he taught how to project and how to hold yourself, and that if I shouted into this microphone, [yells] "I demand pandemonium!" which I did in a class once, you could have heard a pin drop. Well you know what? They didn't hear the words, but they sure heard the music, right?
Bud: And he taught me that, and also that 50% of communication is body language,40% is intonation, 10% is content, and how to project yourself like this. I actually learned that. And I sat in on some of my colleagues' classes. One of them, instead of lecturing, would start out by saying, "I want to talk about 55:00this problem. Well, what's the first thing you think of? What do you want to do first? What are you going to do next? What are you going to do next? What are you going to do next?" And you would say, "Well," and he would get them started talking and discussing. "Okay, y'all figure it out. I'm going to leave the room." He would come back a minute later and say, "Have you figured it out?" "Yeah." "What was so hard about it?" "We don't know." "What happened?" "Well we got together and we talked about it and sooner or later some ideas bubbled up." So I decided I was going to do my best.
Ren: To be the best...
Bud: The best me as a professor, maybe not the best professor, and so I reallythrew myself into the job of teaching. I wasn't a hotshot researcher. I realized 56:00very early on that I wasn't going to be Gauss or Newton, but you know, it seemed like a natural thing to kind of move on into teaching along with research, and I concentrated on that for a while and I wasn't even thinking about anything about teaching evaluations. The first quarter I taught this, again, the calculus class in the fall of about 80 people in it, I did everything but light myself on fire. I would jump up on the desk. I would scream and holler. I would run down the aisle and shake my fist into somebody's face and say, "What do you do now? What do you do now? What do you do now?" "I don't know, Dr. Brown!" "Well let's think about it. Think about it for 20 seconds. So what do we do next?" You do this, whatever it is. And I got them just excited. You know, were there math majors in 57:00there? Maybe there were a few, mostly engineers, but by golly they learned something that quarter.
And I didn't think anything of it, and you're talking about the moments that youremember. I was sitting in my office in the spring of 1991 when Kathy Brown knocked on the door (one of my colleagues), and said, "Can I come in?" "Yeah." And Kathy said, "I'm chairing the department's teaching committee, and we are thinking about putting you up for an award. And of course as a Southern Gentleman, I had risen and I got weak-kneed and had to sit down. And the only -- well, there are two other things that happened later that left me absolutely 58:00speechless. What? What? What? I hadn't even thought about that? Now why was that important? They put me up for a Certificate of Teaching Excellence and I was selected for a Certificate of Teaching Excellence. And I was also selected for a variety of other awards which you can read about, but that moment that she said, "We're thinking about putting you up for an award," what that was was being validated by my colleagues. They thought highly enough of me, or they pretended to think highly enough, I don't know which, to put me up for a teaching award. 59:00And not only did I get involved with teaching, I got involved with putting other people up for awards. We had a change in department heads and the new department head was convinced that we had a lot of teachers who needed recognition, and he asked me to help the department pick out excellent teachers and help them put dossiers together for the Certificate of Teaching Excellence and eventually for the major teaching awards by the Academy of Teaching Excellence, also the Diggs Teaching Scholar Award.
And sure, so I helped people prepare dossiers. From 1995 to about 2008 we had60:00about twenty people get recognition in the Mathematics Department, not just for teaching. The rest of the department caught on and we started putting up GTAs and so forth like that, and instructors. And that was important seeing that my colleagues had recognition.
Ren: Kind of on the reverse side of that question, and we talked about thisbefore we got started, some difficult memories or experiences during your time here at Virginia Tech in the last 48-plus years.
Bud: Yeah. Yeah, there were. It was cold, and the wind had been blowing for six61:00days in a row. I walked to school that morning. It was a Monday, April 16, 2007, and I said, "I sure do hope that it gets better." And you know what happened next, it got worse. I was in my office. I had a class to prepare for, or maybe it was office hours or something like that. It was around 9 o'clock. One of my colleagues came in and said, "You know, look, there's some people running around 62:00out there in the courtyard between McBride and Holden with guns, automatic weapons and things. What's going on?" I said, "I don't know." Now, the previous week there had been two bomb threats called in. Maybe they were called in by you know who, who knows. So I looked, and I said, "Oh no, what's going on here?" I didn't know.
And then I was sitting there just preparing for a class the next day I think,and two students from University Honors were out in the hall. I knew one of 63:00them, "Hey Sam, what's going on?" "We're in lockdown. The building has been locked down. We can't get out." "Well come on in, let me show you some interesting stuff." So, I showed him a few cute mathematical puzzles and interesting objects, and 150 yards away there was an unspeakable horror going on. Then eventually we looked out and we saw students running out the entrance of Norris Hall, and they jumped over the edge of the sidewalk there and ran down towards the Drillfield with their hands over their heads. What in the world is 64:00going on here? And it was some kind of a disturbance in the building, but I thought well it's over now. Hmgh. And then when they said that we could go home they lifted the lockdown and said, "But don't go towards the Drillfield. Don't go towards the Drillfield. Don't go towards Burruss Hall. Don't go towards that side of campus, just go the other way."
Well, before I left I called my wife and I said, "I'm coming home." She said,65:00"Something is going on over there, because I heard a siren. You don't hear sirens in Blacksburg, but then the sirens just kept coming and kept coming and kept coming and kept coming and wouldn't stop." And so I said I don't know what's going on. So she says, "I turned on CNN." The channel was on CNN. I thought it was going to turn over to WDBJ or one of the local stations, and CNN comes on and it says, 'shootings at Virginia Tech' at the top." And I said, "Any details?" She said, "No." 66:00
"I'll be home. Call the children." I didn't say that then. I went home, and wesat there in just sort of mounting horror as the number of casualties. The deaths rose from 5 to 8 to 10 to 12, and they just kept going up and up and up and up and up and up. I was 150 yards from where it happened. What's going on? And gradually the details came out, and we had lunch and then I went upstairs to 67:00the little office that we have up there and after that the entire day was a blank. I blanked it out.
A couple of weeks later Roland Lazenby asked me to write my impressions, becausewe had already talked about this, and I said, "Okay." And so I asked Jo, my wife, "I don't remember that day after we ate lunch. What did I do?" She said, "I know exactly what you did." "Will you please tell me?" "You went up to the office and wrote and answered emails and called and received calls and talked to 68:00people from about 1 o'clock until 11 o'clock at night when I came up to the office and said, "Bud go to bed." I don't remember any of that. But what I do remember was that I sent emails, what it brought back was I sent emails to my classes. I had a class list and I sent them emails saying, "Just tell me you're okay. That's all. You can even put in the subject line I'm okay." And I got emails from them saying, "I'm okay, I'm fine." Many of them said, "Are you okay?" They were worried about their teachers. 69:00
And you know, this was an extraordinary thing that happened. Well the next daywas the memorial service, and I was going to walk over there, and one of my good friends who was a University Distinguished Professor was walking the opposite direction toward me, and he said, "Bud, where are you going?" I said, "I'm going to go over to the memorial service." He says, "The line is a mile long." I said, "Okay, well we'll go..." We ended up eating in Owens and there was a TV there 70:00and all the TVs and all the stations had guess what on there. And so after that I walked over to Hillcrest where University Honors was. I was desperate about one of my students. I could not contact him. He was in one of my classes and I was trying to find him and trying to find him. I went over to Hillcrest. In their dining room they had the TV set-up and I got there too late for the beginning, but about two or three minutes afterwards Nikki Giovanni stood up and read her poem, and then we heard, "Let's go Hokies." And I looked down the front 71:00row there in Hillcrest and there was my friend and student, Brad, Brad Shapiro. And I went over to him and we ran outside and just hugged each other. I said, "Oh, how are you? Where were you? Where were you?" He said, "I was..." He was the head RA that year. He was in the... He was trying to find the students and there were three honor students lost.
I'll think of their names in a minute. Austin Cloyd was a freshman, and also72:00Leslie Sherman, and Maxine Turner. Leslie was in Hillcrest. The other two were in Campbell, Main Campbell residential communities. It was just one of the worst times I've ever experienced. I mean the first decade of this century we had 73:009/11, we had the shootings, and I had Hurricane Katrina, which destroyed my City.
Now, a couple of days later I got an email from a student, from a formerstudent, one of my best beloveds. You get these best beloved students. He was at home and this was the day after the shootings, he was at home and he was watching, he was babysitting his son while his wife who was also one of my best beloveds was off at a rehearsal, an orchestra rehearsal. And his son came running in. He was listening to NPR in the other room. Well what's going to be 74:00on there? And his son came running into the room and he said, "Daddy Daddy, there's something bad happening at Virginia Tech. There was a man with a gun there. Guns are bad daddy. Is Mr. Bud all right?" So he sent me this email and I just sat there and cried. And I said -- I don't want to mention any names, I said, "This is Mr. Bud and I am fine and I am here and I tell you that the man with the gun will never hurt anybody again."
On October 28, 2015 I got a call from a colleague saying that the mom in this75:00family had been murdered the previous night and they've arrested the dad.
Bud: And that was the worst day of my life. Two of my best beloved students,again, no names. You're here a long time and you get to care about these people and you know, of course, some of them are going to break your heart, and what do you do? Well, I don't know. I mean that's just sort of a side note. This 76:00wonderful family was just destroyed. Well, the events of that week are shattering. At the end of the week they had hired this firm from San Diego called Firestorm. We got together some of us on Sunday night and they decided that on Monday afternoon that they would have a few of the faculty, staff, and students, I think about eight in all, and there would be a 30-minute session for the media, the print media, the radio, a broadcast and TV. And fortunately I 77:00wasn't selected. The faculty members selected had already had their students back with them, and one of them said, "Nothing really good can be said about all of this, except that it gave us professors an opportunity to tell our students how much we love them." And you get that way with the students you know.
Ren: I know that you've been quoted in telling this story, and obviously April78:0016th comes up a lot in these interviews of people that we talk to.
Ren: It was nice to have your perspective and your take on it. Kind of moving onto some lighter topics...
Bud: Anything would be lighter.
Ren: And these are just kind of broad general questions, but if someone justkind of simply says the words Virginia Tech what's the first thing that you think of? It can be a word, a couple of words, a phrase, whatever it may be.
Bud: Right now it's "let's go Hokies," which at that memorial service was aprayer. After Nikki said that poem, it just started spontaneously. What's a Hokie? I am. It's a place I worked for 48 years, and indeed it did become a big 79:00honking big deal University, just like my friend and colleague, who was here for 40 years and then retired, predicted.
Ren: So to that question, when you look across the campus and kind of the stateof the University, I probably know the answer to this, but what inspires you about this place? And then also what concerns you about Virginia Tech?
Bud: Inspiring -- well, the students always inspire me. Don't underestimate our80:00students. At Virginia Tech there is an advising tool called the planner, something or other planner. This was invented way back at the beginning of University Honors. When Jack Dudley was head of this, they decided that they wanted the University Honor Students to plan out the four-year curriculum with all the classes they wanted to take. And this one student from Roanoke, I think it was from Roanoke, and I'm pretty sure he was an engineer came in one day and he said, "I have to turn in a four-year plan and I started writing this out, and 81:00I had to start crossing things out, and it got to be a big mess, so I got an idea."
And he showed he had two big sheets of poster paper and it was all lined andblocks and in each little square was a post-in note with the name of a course and the number, and that's where it started. It did not start with the faculty or the administration saying, "Do something," it started with a student who wanted to do something.
Ren: Yeah. That's pretty inspiring.
Bud: Yeah. I mean the students always are very inspirational. One memory of thatfirst week was that student Brad Shapiro, invited me over to Hillcrest to have 82:00pancakes with them, and I felt proud. He said, "Will you do it?" I said, "Sure." He says, "Well, do you like chocolate morsels in your pancakes?" I said, "Fine." [Chuckles]
Ren: What concerns you?
Bud: What concerns me?
Ren: As you said, when you came here when Marshall Hahn was president, thegrowth of the University.
Bud: Well, first of all, another thing that has just been a great blessing isthe Moss Art Center, and that is an astonishing thing that the roots of that started back in the late 1960s when a couple of professors in theater arts 83:00decided that theater and in general the arts needed a place. There needed to be a center for the performing arts at Virginia Tech.
Bud: And they had an idea where it should be. It should be right across AlumniMall, which in those days was simply called the Mall, in the big field in front of Schultz Dining Hall, and that's exactly where the Moss Arts Center is now. It took years for that to come to fruition, but one of the vice presidents under Charlie Steger, Minnis Ridenour got the ball rolling. He convinced President Steger and the upper administration. They convinced the Board of Visitors and the Board of Visitors said okay.
And you have on this campus of "good old VPI, Virginia Corps and Cal College, I84:00can't spell engineer, but I guess I are one," you have one of the finest concert halls in the world. The events that come to that place are simply astonishing, top people in the world. They know what they are doing and every time I go in there it makes me smile. The first time I went in there... Have you been inside?
Ren: Yeah, I have, yeah.
Bud: Do you look up at the ceiling and you just stand there with your mouth open?
Bud: And then you get the quality of the hall, the acoustics, and you say toyourself, and we said this to ourselves, when we go outside this is not going to be Blacksburg. That's not going to be the Mall out there. That's going to be 85:00Broadway. This is going to be Lincoln Center.
Ren: [Laughs] Right. Yeah.
Bud: And it's not Carnegie Hall.
Ren: Pretty close.
Bud: But it's world-class. It is world-class.
Ren: I want to make sure we get to a couple of other things and be cognizant ofthe time.
Bud: Yes, yes.
Ren: Anything that concerns you or maybe advice you would possibly share withadministration and maybe you have?
Bud: If you're going to bring in more students you had better increase the sizeof the faculty, because no matter what you may think, the best learning that 86:00happens on this campus is a mentor and a mentee, whatever you call it. A professor and a student, a teacher and a student, a student and another student, that's where the real learning gets going, in small groups. It's expensive. People are expensive. I am very happy to have been on the faculty for 48 years and still live in a town that has this humongous University in it that's just going to get humongouser. 87:00
You know, the reputation of your school is going to reside in the faculty.People are going to come here for a variety of reasons, but they will, the majors that will attract them will attract them because of the opportunities that the departments and the faculty there give them. That's the one thing I would advise if I were here. If I had been here two years ago I would have said something else, but it's no longer necessary to say.
Ren: Great. Thank you again for sitting down with us. I really appreciatehearing your story, learning about you and getting to meet you. The last question that I have for you, what is Virginia Tech and what does this place 88:00really mean to you?
Bud: Well, for 48 years it paid the bills. I had a very nice job. I have a goodfriend and colleague who says, "Bud we had the greatest job in the work, a college professor." First of all, you get to work inside, not outside. Second of all, you get to work sitting down sometimes, standing up other times, but you don't have to stand up all the time. You don't have to worry about the weather. You have a nice place to sit in a nice building. Maybe it's getting a little old, but you know so are you so don't complain. I'm thankful. Yeah, I am proud. 89:00I'm proud to have been on the faculty for all these years and go Hokies.
Ren: Thank you so much.
Bud: You're welcome.
Ren: I'll just say Dr. Ezra Bud Brown, Alumni Distinguished Professor inMathematics, thank you so much. Nice to meet you sir.
Bud: It was a pleasure.
Ren: Thank you.