Washington Business Week is sad to share the news of James E. Brooks’ passing this week at the age of 91. President Brooks was instrumental in proposing and supporting the Washington Business Week program at Central Washington State College back in 1975 with the Superintendent of Public Education and Association of Washington Business (AWB). We are saddened to hear of this loss and are so very grateful to him and his wife, Lillian, for their support through the years. It was an honor to recognize both of them last summer at our 40th anniversary program at Central Washington University. Our sincere condolences go to the Brooks family, the community of Ellensburg and Central Washington University. Jim Brooks will be sorely missed.
CWU remembers former President James E. Brooks
ELLENSBURG, Wash. — Central Washington University President James E. Brooks passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 2, in Ellensburg.
Brooks, 91, was university president from 1961 through 1978 and remains the only Central alumnus—named a distinguished university alumnus in 1986—to serve in that capacity, and the youngest, as he became president at just 35 years of age.
“Katie and I have had the honor and pleasure to get to know Jim and Lillian [Brooks], and consider them friends,” said current CWU President James L. Gaudino. “No one loved Central more than Jim and we’ll all miss his commitment, humor, and friendship.”
Brooks, born near Mossyrock, grew up during the Great Depression. A World War II United States Navy veteran, he attended Central Washington College of Education (CWCE), where he received his bachelor’s degree in geography in 1949. Brooks began teaching at Central in 1952 after the sudden death of faculty member Reginald Shaw, and he took over geography classes while still a graduate student at the University of Washington, where he received his Ph.D.
During Brooks’ tenure, Central grew in size and scope from a small teacher’s college into a comprehensive, master’s granting university. Under Brooks’ leadership, CWCE became Central Washington State College and, later, Central Washington University.
Brooks listed growth of the quality and quantity of the school’s faculty during that period, along with the establishment and development of the CWU faculty senate and CWU Foundation, as hallmarks of his administration. The campus also expanded by 20 buildings, and from 100 to more than 300 acres, while the student body went from 2,320 to 7,483 during his time in office.
After stepping down as president, he rejoined the faculty full time and taught geography and geology courses through 1985 and, again, from 1987 until 1993. He was honored for his work in the classroom with a distinguished professor of geography award in 1989.
Brooks started the Friends of the Library to help fund and promote the CWU library as the center of campus learning. Brooks and his wife, Lillian (Literal), a 1950 Central graduate, later established a library endowment. Last fall, they also donated two new custom benches, which have been installed near the library. One lists the names of the Brooks and their five children while the second includes Brooks’ graduation year and the inscription, “Go Wildcats!”
In honor of the Brooks’ patronage, the CWU library was named the James E. Brooks Library in 2003.
“The library’s faculty and staff saw Dr. Brooks as one of our most ardent and devoted supporters,” said Patricia Cutright, CWU dean of library services. “His support went far beyond monetary, including notes of encouragement when needed, accolades for the hard work being done, and his tireless promotion of the library and all that it’s done for the university and the community at large. His contributions will always be there to remind us of the importance he saw in the library and our service to the community.”
The Brooks also initiated a scholarship for CWU geography students. The James and Lillian Brooks/Reginald and Isabel Shaw Geography Endowment has awarded more than 100 scholarships, in excess of $50,000, to undergraduate majors since 1997.
Just last year, Brooks was honored with a lifetime achievement award from the CWU Alumni Association.
Brooks also was the driving force behind the founding of the Council of Presidents, which fostered unprecedented collaboration among Washington public university presidents that continues today. He served as president of that organization and the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, which is now the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.
Additionally, Brooks was president of Yakima Valley Community College, and served as a member of the college’s governing board. In all, he was appointed to five state commissions, by four different governors, along with being on the faculty at Eastern Washington University and Portland State University.
Brooks was instrumental in the development of Washington Business Week (WBW), through spearheading meetings involving state business and education leaders. Those discussions, which focused on ensuring that high school students graduated with the skills that employers needed, led to the inaugural WBW, held at CWU, in 1976.
Throughout the next four decades, more than 69,000 Washington state students have participated in WBW summer programs and related school-year offerings. For those efforts, Brooks also received the Outstanding Service award for Leadership in Economic Education for High School Students.
In 1990, Dr. Brooks served as United Way chair for Kittitas County.
Brooks is survived by his wife of 69 years, Lillian; five children, Carol Findley, Marla Bailey, Ronda Patrick, Brian Brooks, and Kenneth Brooks; and 17 grandchildren. The Brooks have lived in Ellensburg for 55 years. Between them, Brooks and his family have earned a dozen CWU degrees.
Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu
April 3, 2017