Maxine Bruhns was a ‘force of nature’ and a global citizen


E. Maxine Bruhns, who shaped one of Pitt’s signature public programs, the Nationality Rooms, as its director from 1965 until her retirement in January 2020, died on July 17, 2020, at 96.

“She was a force of nature,” said Ariel C. Armony, vice provost for Global Affairs and director of the University Center for International Studies, which oversees the Nationality Rooms. “I learned a lot from her. Every opportunity I had to sit down and talk to her, it was an opportunity to learn.”

Chancellor Patrick Gallagher, in the announcement of her death, praised Bruhns: “She was as unique and striking as the rooms themselves, and — while she will be deeply missed — her incredible legacy has left an indelible mark, and her love of learning, history and culture will live on.”

Born in 1924, she met her husband Fred C. Bruhns at Ohio State University, and they were married from 1946 until he died in 2008. Early on in their partnership, the pair lived and worked with refugees everywhere from Austria and Iran to Cambodia and Vietnam for a decade and a half. It was a formative experience for her later work.

Maxine and Fred Bruhns joined Pitt in 1965 — she to work as executive secretary of the University’s cultural and educational exchange committee, he to teach in the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs. Alongside leading the Nationality Rooms, Maxine Bruhns directed the University’s Intercultural Exchange Programs.

Marshaling committees to design and support each room, she expanded the rooms from 19 to 31. Her words and voice can be heard on the tapes that tell the story of each room’s origins and design. She also created the Nationality Rooms Holiday Open House that takes place annually in December.

“The other aspect of her work on the Nationality Rooms was to preserve, celebrate and respect the history of immigration in Pittsburgh,” said Armony — work that is especially important today, he added.

Bruhns also expanded Pitt’s study-abroad scholarship program and created a fellowship that invites scholars to Pitt every year.

According to a 2015 profile in the Tribune-Review, the Bruhnses gave more than $2 million to Pitt in gifts that also helped to fund the European Union Center of Excellence.

“Her legacy is truly exceptional,” Armony said. “I always like to point out: So many students benefited from the scholarships. I’ve met students who were able to go abroad for the first time. It was an extraordinary opportunity for our students.”

Bruhns spoke, with various degrees of fluency, nine languages, and had visited dozens of countries in her long life. “What an experience of being a global citizen,” Armony said. “It’s something we need to celebrate these days. It’s something we need to celebrate forever. What an inspiration for all of us.”

A date for memorial services will be announced.

Marty Levine is a staff writer for the University Times. Reach him at or 412-758-4859.


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