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September 24, 2017
Wilson Bradshaw is a ‘Florida Icon'

Photo: Erik Kellar

Florida Icon

Wilson Bradshaw is a ‘Florida Icon'

( Former president of Florida Gulf Coast University, Fort Myers; age 71 )

Art Levy | 8/28/2017

Man, we were building buildings. We were adding programs. I likened my job at FGCU to building a jetliner while flying it at 30,000 feet.

When I talk to young people today, and I tell them about attending segregated schools when I was growing up in West Palm Beach, they kind of gasp, and I joke that they’re gasping because they think I’m so young. But, really, my point is it really wasn’t that long ago.

I’ve been asked since day one if FGCU would get a Division I football program. I answer the same way now as I did when I walked in the door 10 years ago — it’s a matter of when, not if.

Ninth grade was the first time I went to an integrated school. It was also the first time I went to summer school to make up credits because I had failed biology, which is interesting because now I have a Ph.D. in psychobiology.

In higher education, resources are always a challenge.

At FGCU, every single employee has an opportunity to add value to something that can be felt. You don’t get that opportunity very often in higher education.

There are people who are very astute at seeing what’s between the lines. For me, what’s between the lines is just space.

My wife and I, we built our retirement home in St. Augustine. We have relatives who moved there, and we visited them over the years and kind of liked the flow. It has a pace that we like. It has a good feel.

What would cause me some concern about Florida right now is mass transit, rapid transit. We have a long state. We’re the third most populated state in the nation, and we are woefully inadequate in mass transportation. We need to address that.

Attending Palm Beach Junior College was a financial decision. I couldn’t afford to attend other places. I wanted to, though. When I was growing up, the place that most African-Americans aspired to go was either More house in Atlanta or FAMU. At FGCU, we’ve held tuition and fees flat for now going on five years, so, with the slow rise in wages, FGCU is more affordable today than it was five years ago. I know how important it is to have a high-quality, affordable education available. I benefited from it.

My wife and I took up fishing several years ago, and she has already caught a fish that she had mounted. I’ve not caught anything yet that I can mount.

The first full-time administrative job I had was vice president and dean for graduate studies and research at Georgia Southern University. In the faculty, we called taking a job like that drifting to the dark side. But I had just come to the point where I had to decide if I wanted to get involved in developing policy or spend the rest of my career critiquing policy.

My grandson lives in Atlanta, and I want to encourage my sons to have more children. One grandchild is not enough.

When I got here, I remember awarding the 10,000th baccalaureate degree. This past commencement, I awarded the 25,000th baccalaureate degree. My legacy — and I really feel strongly about this — is going to be written by those graduates who go out and improve themselves, their families, their communities and the world. So, give me 20 years and let me see what my little darlings have done.

My mom worked at the post office. She was initially a postal clerk. She also worked at the post office window, and she was the first African-American to do that in West Palm Beach.

I am looking forward to going to bed at night and not even thinking about what I have to do the next morning.

The first time my wife and I drove on FGCU’s campus — and we drove on campus before I applied to be president — I could see from the main entrance all the way to the end of campus. I saw trees, but I could also see promise.

I thought I was going to go to medical school. That’s why I was taking all those chemistry and biology courses. That’s what I was educating myself for, but when I became a junior in college and I learned of this emerging science — it was called physiological psychology then and later psychobiology — it pulled me in.

For a while, I sorted mail and packages at the post office in West Palm Beach. We would get carloads of shipments from the train terminal. Every Christmas, we all dreaded the cheese train. You know that people ordered that Wisconsin cheese, and there would be boxes and boxes of it. It was just awful. The boxes were heavy, and there were so many of them. During Christmas, the packages would be up to the ceiling when you got to work, and they’d be up to the ceiling when you left.

Learning is interactive.

My mom wanted me to be a medical doctor. She was not shy about that. She wasn’t sure about this Ph.D. thing. But when I was inaugurated at Metropolitan State University in Minnesota for my first presidency, my mom was there — she has since passed — and as I was coming off the dais, she whispered in my ear that she thought I made the right decision. That was very gratifying for me.

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