After physics and engineering professor D. Allan Bromley received the prestigious National Medal of Science at a White House ceremony in 1988, he had a few hours to spare before he had to rush off to another obligation. Many of those in his position may have reflected upon their accomplishments, but Bromley simply reclined on a mattress — laughing as he watched the “Three Little Pigs” skip across a television screen in his hotel room.
The anecdote, as related by his daughter, K. Lynn Bromley, was but one story told at her father’s memorial service at Battell Chapel Saturday morning. The eulogies of students, colleagues, family and friends painted the picture of a man who was not only an eminent nuclear physicist and policy maker, but also a man whose tenacity was complemented by an outgoing personality.
Over 300 people gathered on campus Saturday to remember Bromley, Yale’s first Sterling professor of the sciences, who died Feb. 10 at the age of 79.
Yale President Richard Levin, in a prepared statement read by University Provost Andrew Hamilton, remembered Bromley as a man whose dynamic personality propelled him to accomplish the extraordinary.
“From a one-room home in Canada, he became a champion of science and engineering at Yale,” Levin’s statement read. “From laboratories at Yale … to the cabinets of Reagan and Bush, his charismatic, larger than life personality transfigured the landscape around him.”
The recipient of 32 honorary doctorates, Bromley was considered one of the most important figures in science in the second half of the 20th century. He was a pioneer in heavy ion sciences, served as the top science and technology advisor to President George H.W. Bush ’48, and was a driving force behind the revitalization of engineering and physics at Yale.
In addition to his roles as nuclear physicist and White House adviser, he devoted much of his time to teaching undergraduates and was teaching a lecture course, “Science, Technology and Public Policy,” this semester before he passed away.
Courtney Cox ’06 said she remembered running late to an appointment at his office this spring. Bursting into the room panting, she apologized, but Bromley told her to sit down, handed her a glass of water and proceeded to ask her about her family and personal interests.
“The time that he took to get to know you as an individual was exceptional,” Cox said.
Cox candidly related a lecture session during which the entire class wore bowties to mock Bromley’s signature colorful bowties, but Cox said Bromley did not notice the class’ gesture.
Joseph Allen GRD ’61, who first met Bromley in 1960, said he will always remember Bromley’s unique style.
“I vividly remember his flamboyant speaking style, his passion for physics and his bowtie,” Allen said.
Many guests at the memorial service remembered Bromley for his humor. When John Glenn was about to become the first American man to orbit the Earth in 1962, Bromley and his team of graduate students had been running experiments in a Yale physics laboratory for 24 hours without a break, Allen said. Begging for a break, Allen had asked Bromley whether they could take an hour off to watch the broadcast of Glenn’s orbit. With his characteristic humor, Bromley refused.
“People will eventually conquer space, but I’m very doubtful whether this accelerator will run again,” Bromley said.
Bromley always made himself available to students, Allen said, and was never too busy “to say how proud he was of us.”
“He was the perfect D. Allan Bromley,” Allen said.