BRELSFORD, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Psychology at Rice University and a consummate educator and mentor, died April 8, 2013, in Houston at the age of 74.
John was born on July 8, 1938, in Memphis, Tennessee, to Dorothy and John Brelsford, Sr. He received his BA and MA from Texas Christian University, his PhD in Psychology from University of Texas at Austin, and did his postdoctoral work at Stanford University. He taught at both Stanford and Yale before joining the Rice Department of Psychology in 1970. After his retirement in 2000, he volunteered at St. Luke's Hospital and settled in to one of his greatest roles: Grandpa. Never content to stop educating, John willed his body to Baylor Medical School, where he hoped to help a Rice-educated medical student learn all about anatomy.
John loved music, trains, traveling, and being with his grandsons. He grew up in a music studio in Memphis where he learned to play the piano and organ. He loved to travel with his family to Europe, and especially enjoyed going to Switzerland. His final trip was to visit the locations of his childhood and heritage in Tennessee, Kentucky, and Mississippi with his family and mother, before her death this January. John and his wife Carolyn worked as a team in all things. He was very proud of his daughter Kristin, son-in-law Bert, and grandsons Everett and Alex.
John's research areas were human learning and memory, information processing, and mathematical models and their applications to behavior; he is the author of over 30 scholarly articles. He was very proud to receive the Rice University Class of 1995 Outstanding Professor Award. In addition to being a professor, John served Rice in many capacities over his 30 years-as Registrar, Chair of the Admissions Committee, Chair of the Examinations and Standings Committee, and Faculty Associate at Brown, Will Rice, and Sid Richardson Colleges.
Perhaps his greatest contribution to Rice, and certainly the one he loved most, was serving with his wife as Masters of Brown College. From 1988 to 1993, John lived on campus and spent most days engaged in his true calling: mentoring undergraduates. "Doc B" devoted himself to Brown students, taking on many roles including academic advisor, therapist (specializing in family dysfunction), father confessor, driving instructor, avid supporter of all Brown college sporting events, bail bondsman, Toga party reveler, and world class drunk-sitter (his terrible sense of smell really helped out with that). Students describe him as a kind, thoughtful, generous, fun, caring man who touched so many and made Brown home.
John is survived by his wife of 52 years, Carolyn Nash Brelsford; daughter Kristin Brelsford Adkins and husband Bert; grandsons, Everett and Alex Adkins; nieces Pam O'Briant and Melissa Mask and their families; and nephew Scott Baker and his family. He is preceded in death by his parents and sister, Virginia "Ginna" Brelsford Baker.
As one of John's former Rice psychology students writes, "He was a mentor in the truest sense of the word: he cared not just about my growth as a scholar, but also my growth as a person. And he mentored not just through his words, but through his example… So John, thank you. Thank you for helping me find my passion and a career that I love. Thank you for all the guidance, for all the support, for all the laughs, and for all the time you spent with me…Thank you for treating me like a colleague even from the getgo. Thank you for teaching me how to be a mentor to the many students that I have worked with in my career (and the many more who will come). Thank you for being a role model. Thank you for being my friend. I will miss you. Rest in peace."
A memorial service will be held at two o'clock in the afternoon on Saturday, April 13, at Palmer Memorial Episcopal Church, 6221 Main Street in Houston, where the Reverend James Nutter will officiate. Following the service, all are invited to a reception in Fellowship Hall for a celebration of John's life.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to one of these Rice undergraduate scholarships: The John W. Brelsford Award, Rice University, Psychology Dept MS-25, PO Box 1892, Houston TX 77251 or The Brelsford Award, Rice University, Brown College MS-709, PO Box 1892, Houston TX 77251.
Published in Houston Chronicle on Apr. 11, 2013