CULLOWHEE – It was 1952, and the United States was embroiled in the Korean War when a young veteran from an earlier conflict, World War II, stepped forward at the August commencement ceremonies at Western Carolina Teachers College to accept the first graduate degree handed out in the institution’s history.
The graduate’s name was Robert C. Brown. Because of that lucky “B” at the beginning of his last name, the Asheville native was first in the lineup of 22 students receiving master’s degrees in education at that commencement, and so he became a historic “first” at the school that would later become Western Carolina University.
On Saturday (Dec. 14), a half century later, Brown returned to the Cullowhee campus to watch his daughter, Linda Brown Adams of Asheville, receive her own master’s degree at Western’s fall commencement.
“My graduation was held in Reid Gymnasium, and the dean of the school of education, W. Ernest Byrd, lined us up alphabetically to get our degrees from President Paul A. Reid,” said the elder Brown, who is now retired at 85 and still living in Asheville.
Robert C. Brown earned his bachelor’s degree at Wake Forest University and served in the Air Force in WWII. After leaving the military, he came back to his hometown to began his teaching career. He enrolled in Western Carolina’s brand new master’s degree program in 1951 and spent three summer months of that year and 1952 taking courses in Cullowhee. Brown said he would leave his family in Asheville early each Monday morning and drive the winding mountain roads to Cullowhee, where he went to class Monday through Friday. His instructors included Carl D. Killian, one of the legends of the university’s teacher education program. Brown would return to his family in Asheville on Friday night.
Brown went on to complete 37 years of teaching physics and chemistry in Asheville City and Buncombe County schools.
His daughter earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at Montreat College in 1998, and Linda Adams was awarded her master’s degree in public affairs at WCU’s Saturday commencement. That the awarding of her master’s degree occurred 50 years after her father received his was coincidental, she said. Linda Adams works for Weaverville’s public works department and lives in Asheville with her husband, David Adams, an accountant for the city of Asheville.
Robert C. Brown’s wife and Linda Adams’ mother, Helen Muse Brown, and other relatives were on hand in Western’s Ramsey Regional Activity Center on Saturday as the family celebrated the accomplishments of its newest Western graduate. The family also includes two aunts, two uncles and two cousins who earned degrees at Western.