Brewster C. Denny wore his heritage like a mantle of responsibility—one he took seriously and treasured all of his life. Denny, ’45, who died June 22 at age 88, was the great-grandson of Arthur and Mary Denny, who founded Seattle and donated the land for the University of Washington. A native son of both the city and the UW, Denny was a giant in the field of public service who proudly held several key roles in the federal government before honoring the call from UW President Charles Odegaard to return home to Seattle to create an academic program in public affairs.
Denny was the founding father of the UW’s Graduate School of Public Affairs, one of the first independent public schools of public administration in the nation. He served as the school’s first dean from 1962 to 1980 and continued to teach courses on American foreign policy until his retirement in 1992.
“He was the father and proud founding dean and he mentored and supported all of the deans who came after him,” said Sandra Archibald, dean of what is now called the Evans School of Public Affairs. “He had a strong sense of when a dean needed some advice but he always gave it in the most thoughtful way. He put the University and other people above himself. It wasn’t about his personality; he cared about the institution.”
Archibald said that when she had just accepted her position at the UW, it seemed like the phone rang within five minutes: “He said ‘I’m Brewster Denny. Can you tell me about yourself?’ By the time we were done he said, ‘I think you’ll be OK’.”
Former Gov. Dan Evans, ’48, ’49, for whom the school is named, was one class behind Denny at Roosevelt High School. “I was close to him in high school and then everyone went off to the military (for World War II) and we lost track of each other for awhile,” Evans recalls. “He had been active in government himself and he thought it was time for the UW to teach young people about the importance of government service.”
After serving in the Navy in World War II and the Korean War, Denny held a variety of advisory and staff positions in the federal government, including U.S. representative to the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1968. After returning to his alma mater, Denny taught American foreign policy and was active in other important projects on campus. For instance, he spearheaded the project to place a World War II Memorial at the main flagpole on Memorial Way.
For 51 years, Denny rang the famous Denny Bell that announced UW Homecoming. Last year, he reached his goal to ring the bell on the UW’s 150th Anniversary despite being in a wheelchair. The Seattle Times reported that “he grabbed the bell rope and pulled so hard his wheelchair rocked back and forth.” The paper quoted Denny as saying, “It’s a rich sound, rich and full. It’s very strong.” Just like Brewster Denny’s commitment to his country, his city and his beloved university.