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March 30, 2006

Obituary: Fred C. Bruhns

Fred C. Bruhns, professor emeritus at the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA), died March 20, 2006, after a brief illness. He was 90.

Bruhns is survived by his wife of 59 years, E. Maxine Bruhns, long-time director of Pitt’s Nationality Rooms and Intercultural Exchange Programs.

Fred Bruhns came to Pitt in 1965 to complete his Ph.D. and join the faculty at GSPIA, where he taught comparative administration and administrative theory. He also held a master’s degree in sociology from Stanford University, and an undergraduate degree from Ohio State University. He retired as professor emeritus in 1985.

Colleague and friend Joseph Eaton, also an emeritus professor at GSPIA, said that while the German-born Bruhns rarely talked about the multiple dimensions of his life, he had pursued four distinct careers: military, diplomatic, academic and, following retirement from Pitt, investment brokering.

“Academically, Fred was a late, a very late bloomer,” Eaton said; Bruhns did not complete his Ph.D. dissertation until age 53. “On his way to Stanford to finish a Ph.D. degree he was ‘hijacked’ by an offer to settle in Pittsburgh as an assistant professor at GSPIA,” Eaton said. “Unlike most graduate schools, GSPIA preferred faculty with a scholarly and critical approach to work experiences in the area of their academic specialization.”

Following World War II, Bruhns had widespread and varying diplomatic experience with international refugee and U.S. government organizations. Between 1948 and 1964, he served in Austria with the International Refugee Organization, resettling European refugees; in Lebanon and Israel as a Ford Foundation scholar, conducting research on Palestinian refugee attitudes, and in South Vietnam, resettling North Vietnamese refugees. In those years he also served stints in Cambodia, Iran and Gabon under the auspices of the United States Agency for International Development, and in Germany and Greece as a delegate of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.

“So, Fred was an early bloomer in his diverse experiences from which to teach graduate students,” Eaton said. “It was his adopted homeland that benefited from his career, especially the students who took his courses. He could teach students about the realities of economic and social development — how to work with people, the politics of programming, budgeting, report writing and so much else. He was experienced as a change agent.”

Bruhns’s work with refugees was foreshadowed by his own early life, friends said.

In a 2001 interview published in the Center for West European Studies newsletter, Bruhns discussed his formative years. “On January 30, 1933, when Hitler came to power I was 17 years old,” said Bruhns, whose given name was Friedrich Karl Otto Bruhns. “I was opposed to Hitler and I joined the German resistance,” a group that included social democrats, members of religious groups and leftists, among others, he said.

“We published ‘illegal things,’ since Hitler immediately forbade all publications not expressing Nazi ideology. I was arrested and became a political prisoner,” sentenced to two years for high treason, he said.

Eaton said, “When Fred was discharged from the high security prison in 1938, he no longer had a passport. He was able to visit Switzerland, where he discovered that its government was unwilling to recognize his political refugee status.”

Bruhns then crossed the Swiss border into France illegally, and enrolled at the University of Grenoble. But after the German invasion of France in 1939, Bruhns again was arrested and interned in a series of refugee camps.

By the time he had obtained a United States visa to attend Ohio State in 1941, he had served more than three years as a political prisoner. After arriving in America, he changed his name to Fred Charles Bruhns.

Following the Pearl Harbor attack, Bruhns was drafted into the U.S. Army and was part of the U.S. invasion force at Anzio Beach, Italy, in 1944. He earned a battlefield commission as a second lieutenant in military intelligence for his role in interrogating German prisoners.

In 1946, following his military service, Bruhns married Maxine and completed his degree at Ohio State, where the couple had met.

In 1961, Bruhns was honored with the Royal Order of the Phoenix for service to the Greek government.

When Fred Bruhns came to GSPIA in 1965, Maxine joined the staff of the Nationality Rooms, where she subsequently was named director.

The couple has funded a number of international scholarships and other programs at the University totaling more than $1 million in gifts. About a quarter of the donations have gone to Pitt’s European Union Center of Excellence.

Alberta Sbragia, director of the EU Center and the Center for West European Studies, said, “Fred believed that integration is the best guarantee that Europe has devised to ensure that its history of virulent nationalism, war and dictatorship does not repeat itself. He felt that the process of European integration was Europe’s response to the horrors of World War II and the Nazi period.

“He wanted American students to understand the extraordinary achievement that integration represents for Europeans and the supportive role which the U.S. has played in that process,” she added.

Chancellor Mark Nordenberg said, “The story of Fred’s life as a young man — the hardships he endured, the values he embraced and the causes for which he fought — can fairly be described as ‘heroic.’ Those early experiences also clearly drove his life-long commitment to the advancement of global understandings. What he did here at Pitt — as a faculty member, friend and donor — helped shape and enhance our institutional commitment to international education.”

In addition to his wife, Bruhns is survived by a niece and three nephews in Germany: Christiana Schmaler, Saarbruecken; Andreas Odenwald, Munich; Thomas Meier, Bonn, and Christophe Boehringer, Hamburg.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Fred C. and Eleanor Maxine Bruhns Scholar Fund, 1209 Cathedral of Learning.

—Peter Hart

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