Bill and Sue and Judy and I arrived at SFA in 1964, they from graduate school at Vanderbilt, we from a first teaching assignment at Murray State. The Brophys had Rebecca, we had Tucker, and I swear those two round-faced, dark-haired kids looked like twins.
As the "new guys" in the history department, Bill and I drew an office assignment in the Annex, no longer extant, used for overflow faculty in those years of accelerated enrollment growth. And we became close friends. Bill even selected the title of my most successful publication.
As I moved more into writing, Bill migrated to administration, serving as department chairman, dean, even interim president of our university. Not long after that, Sue passed away. Bill was not meant to be alone, and in time he and Shelley made another magnificent match.
As a department chairman, Bill reminded me much of "Barney Miller," lead character played by Hal Linden in a 1980s television sitcom based on a police precinct captain who presided over a multi-cultural cast. Barney, like Bill, always searched for the practical solution to a problem in a way that calmed troubled waters.
Here is a good example: in that tumultuous spring of 1968 when civil rights and Vietnam peace marches alternated as leads on the evening news, Martin Luther King Jr. went to Memphis to lend support to a strike by mostly African American sanitation workers, and lost his life to an assassin. Tennessee courts said James Earl Ray pulled the trigger, but really, centuries of racism loaded that rifle.
Riots erupted in America, and nearly did so in Our Town. Bill Brophy is the main reason we escaped bloodshed. Bill and I attended a meeting led by Harvey Rayson, our basketball team's star guard, the evening after Dr. King's death. Heavy tension hung in the air while many advocated and planned a march on downtown Nacogdoches, an action likely to produce violence.
At a crucial moment, Bill took out a $5 note and said, "Instead, let's start a scholarship for African American students in Dr. King's honor." I'm certain that was all the money Bill had in his pocket between those lean, assistant professor paydays.
Bill's leadership channeled the student's raw energy to "do something" in a positive direction. That was one of the bravest actions I ever witnessed.
Unfortunately, Bill left us some years ago. But I remember him still, white haired and broad-shouldered, like Barney Miller, righting wrongs, doing good, and making the world a little better than it wanted to be.
Archie P. McDonald is a professor of history and Community Liaison at Stephen F. Austin State University. His commentaries are also featured each Friday morning on Red River Radio.