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Former Dean Brotzen dies at 94

By Michelle Phillips     7/29/10 7:00pm

Former Dean of Engineering and Materials Science Professor Franz R. Brotzen, age 94, died May 25, after 55 years at Rice.Approximately 200 people attended a memorial service held in his honor June 12.

He is survived by his wife Frances and two children including his son, Franz, who works as the senior media relations specialist at Rice.

Brotzen continued teaching at Rice until spring 2009, and continued working on scientific articles until two months before his death. Several professors who had worked with Brotzen closely for years remember that he was just as active as he had always been, despite being on kidney dialysis.

Centennial Historian Melissa Kean, who used to come to Brotzen often with questions about Rice's history, said he continued working until he was hospitalized.

Brotzen was an internationally recognized lecturer and mentor, and well known as a leader at Rice. During the Masterson Crisis in 1969, when the Board of Trustees elected a new president of the university without consulting faculty, Brotzen was a strong faculty advocate.

Due to Brotzen's leadership, Kean said, Masterson resigned within six days of taking office, and the faculty worked with the Board of Trustees for 18 months to help choose the next president of Rice, Norman Hackerman.

Before that, Brotzen also worked with President Kenneth Pitzer to change Rice into a more research-oriented university in the 1960s.

Because of his background in traveling internationally before he came to Rice, Brotzen and his wife founded the Brotzen Summer Travel Award, given to help students pursue their interests in an international setting.

"He had a very unusual life - an adventurous life," Engineering Professor Michael Carroll said.

Brotzen was born in Berlin and lived in Brazil for eight years before coming to the U.S. in 1941. He also served as an intelligence officer during World War II, and after earning his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in eight years came to Rice. Aside from a few years as a visiting professor at the International Max Planck Research School for Advanced Materials in Stuttgart and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich,he never left.

"He just had an incredible zest for living - he enjoyed everything," History Professor Allen Matusow said.

When Matusow first came to Rice in 1963, he said Brotzen looked him up and took an interest in him, even though their fields - history and materials science - were in no way connected.

"Although he was a good dean of engineering, he would have made a great humanities dean," Matusow said, adding that Brotzen took an interest in everything.

His warmth and kindness particularly stood out to friends and students alike.

"Students were amazed at how interested he would be in the projects they were doing," Kean said.

Al Griffin, a postdoctorate under Brotzen, said the professor would never turn anyone away when they came to his office.

Griffin said Brotzen was a grandfather figure to him because Brotzen had been so caring and open to him while he was a student.

"Everything I have achieved, he is a part of," Griffin said.

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