A quick rise into school leadership
He is survived by his wife, Harriet, of Ellensburg, son George of Tacoma and daughter Marylou Seeman of Spokane. A private family service will be held Saturday at the I.O.O.F. Cemetery in Ellensburg.
The service will include military honors in recognition of Brain’s service in the Marine Corps during World War II. He was a Japanese language officer and recipient of the Iwo Jima Medal. He was a reservist after the war and wore a Marine Corps baseball cap until his death.
He became the state’s youngest school superintendent in 1953 when he was hired by the Bellevue school district.
In 1959, Time magazine dubbed him “the fastest-rising educator in the U.S. public school system.” It recounted how Brain had put together “a $45 million system of eleven elementary, three junior high and two senior high schools in a community that was little more than a little-red-schoolhouse hamlet before World War II” as well as “some of the most interesting U.S. public experiments in setting up ungraded classes and grouping children according to ability.”
Into the national spotlight
The Baltimore Public Schools online history notes that Brain had been on the job only a few months when a Baltimore student walked out of the Bible reading that was part of opening exercises at his junior high, and virtually every other school in the United States. His mother, Madalyn Murray (later, Madalyn Murray O’Hair), took her case against prayer and Bible reading in the schools to the Supreme Court, where she won in June 1963.
Influence in state, nation, beyond
“The stories are all true, he was very influential in our state and nation,” said Clinical Associate Professor Gene Sharratt.
Sharratt directs WSU’s 15-year-old superintendent certification program, which prepares two-thirds of Washington’s top school administrators. Like Ray, the program’s founding director, Sharratt remembers Brain’s intelligence, caring and strength of will.
“George was on my dissertation committee, liked my study and told everyone else to like the study,” Sharratt said. “Needless to say, the committee liked the study!”
Don Orlich, a retired professor of education, said Brain made sure that educational administration faculty members worked closely with school districts. Orlich recalled being dispatched by Brain to help Walla Walla administrators rework a failed grant application, which was approved on the second try.
Brain’s influence was felt not only outside the state, but also outside the country. With Brain’s support, Orlich traveled to Manila, Singapore, Bangkok and Rangoon, working with international schools in Southeast Asia on behalf of the College of Education.
“The international schools would send people to Pullman to get masters and doctorates, and we would send faculty there for training,” he said.
The legacy of that involvement lives on in WSU’s International School Leadership Certificate Program.
|Brain Library in Cleveland Hall|
In 1980, Brain was badly injured when he fell from a ladder while sweeping Mount St. Helens ash off the roof of his house. He retired three years later. He returned to campus in 1987, when the education library in Cleveland Hall was renamed in his honor.
“We lost a legend,” Sharratt said on Monday. “I admired him and Harriet very much for their kindness and loyalty to WSU and the College of Education.”
Brain’s family has established a WSU scholarship in his name, to benefit students seeking advanced education degrees. Checks payable to the WSU Foundation may be sent to Affordable Funeral Care, 101 E. 2nd Ave., Ellensburg, WA 98926.