When Randolph W. Bromery was appointed interim president of Roxbury Community College 11 years ago, he shrugged off any suggestion that, at 76, his life’s work was behind him.
“I still have more to do,” he told the Globe in January 2002.
He had already done more than most. Dr. Bromery spent 19 years as an airborne exploration geophysicist with the US Geological Survey before turning to academia. He joined the University of Massachusetts Amherst faculty and within five years rose to become geology department chairman, vice chancellor for student affairs, and then chancellor.
By the time a Globe editorial hailed Dr. Bromery’s Roxbury Community College appointment as “a welcome change” at a troubled time for the school, he had served as interim president of Westfield State College, president of Springfield College, and chancellor of the state Board of Regents of Higher Education.
Dr. Bromery, who attended a segregated school as a child in Maryland, died Tuesday in Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers of prostate cancer that had spread. He was 87 and moved to Peabody last year from Amherst, where he had lived for decades.
Robert L. Caret, president of the UMass, said Thursday that Dr. Bromery “was a transformational figure in public higher education in New England and blazed a trail at the University of Massachusetts.”
“He opened the doors of opportunity for African-Americans and other people of color at UMass, and his many contributions can be felt to this day,” Caret’s statement said. “He left a legacy so rich that it will never be forgotten.”
In addition to his administrative work, Dr. Bromery “worked diligently to expand educational opportunities for black students in the 1970s and later led campus efforts to acquire the papers of W.E.B. Du Bois, which are now regarded worldwide as an important resource for researchers,” Kumble Subbaswamy, chancellor at UMass Amherst, said.
Along with his wife, Cecile, Dr. Bromery set up a scholarship in 1999 for minority students studying geosciences at UMass.
Long a supporter of opening higher education to a wide range of students, Dr. Bromery criticized proposed tuition increases when he resigned in 1991 as chancellor.
“The lecture hall, the seminar room, the library, and the laboratory remain for me the heart of academic life, and the place to make a stand,” he wrote in a resignation statement the Globe published.
“Like many Americans of my generation, I owe my own education to the GI Bill and to publicly supported universities and have devoted much of my effort over the years to broadening access to higher education, particularly for African-American students,” he wrote. “From this experience, I know that high tuition can be a real and perceptual barrier keeping many students from college.”
The second of five children, Randolph Wilson Bromery was born in Cumberland, Md., where “legal segregation was well-marked, clear, and simple,” he wrote in 2004.
His father was a jazz trumpeter and a dining room supervisor at a hotel. His mother helped run a part-time catering business out of the family’s small house.
“As a young teenager,” Dr. Bromery wrote, “it nearly drove me to the brink of insanity when I witnessed these frequent patronizing and condescending verbal exchanges between my father and his so-called white liberal employers and other white residents.”
Dr. Bromery, who was known as Bill, told his family “that the lion’s share of segregation was negative, but one aspect of it actually helped him,” said his oldest child, Keith of Tallahassee.
Because fewer children attended the segregated school, one teacher had time to cultivate Dr. Bromery’s aptitude for math, and “he credits this guy with putting him on the right path,” Keith Bromery said.
In biographical information Dr. Bromery prepared, he wrote about serving with the Tuskegee Airmen during World War II.
After the war, he studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and left in 1948 to begin his career as an airborne exploration geophysicist and supervisory research geophysicist with the US Geological Survey.
Dr. Bromery married Cecile Trescott on June 8, 1947.
Completing his undergraduate credits at night school, he graduated from Howard University with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics and physics. In 1962, he received a master’s in geology from American University in Washington, and he graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore in 1968 with a doctorate in geology.
During his years as a geologist, Dr. Bromery also was a mineral resource consultant in several African countries and served as president of the Geological Society of America.
Over the years, Dr. Bromery was on the boards of companies including New England Telephone, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, and John Hancock Life Insurance.
In addition, he formerly was president of Weston Geophysical International Corp., and a founder of Geoscience Engineering Co.
Along with receiving nine honorary degrees and many awards in the academic, business, and scientific communities, Dr. Bromery was honored in 1997 by the National Academy of Sciences as an outstanding black scientist.
A saxophonist since childhood, he helped recruit jazz legends such as drummer Max Roach to the University of Massachusetts faculty.
At home, his son Keith recalled, Dr. Bromery would play jazz record albums from his collection on the family’s stereo.
“The kids would sit on his lap, their heads back on his chest, listening to jazz,” Keith said. “He enjoyed that, totally.”
In addition to his wife, Cecile, and his son Keith, Dr. Bromery leaves a daughter, Carol Ann Thompson of Baltimore; three other sons, Dennis of Amherst, David of Ellicott City, Md., and Chris of Lynn; a sister, Bettyjane Coker of Lanham, Md.; a brother, Robert of Bowie, Md.; 11 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Wednesday in Douglass Funeral Home in Amherst.
For Dr. Bromery, world travels for work provided a fine excuse to sample international cuisine, which he sometimes introduced to others back home.
“He was a big food person,” Chris Bromery said. “The conversation would always come around to food. You could be talking about cars, and it would end up being about food.”
An accomplished cook, Dr. Bromery prepared an elaborate six-course French feast for his 35th wedding anniversary.
“It rivaled any French food I’ve had anywhere,” Keith Bromery said. “He even printed up a menu for everybody. He would stand there and prepare everything simultaneously at his cook’s stove. He enjoyed eating, too, but he loved cooking. And he did it to perfection.”