Born in 1927 in South Bend, Indiana, John Brademas would go on to become a national leader in politics and higher education.
The son of schoolteacher mother and Greek immigrant father who owned the local diner in South Bend, John Brademas joined a U.S. Navy officers training program at the University of Mississippi in the final year of World War II. He went on to earn his bachelor’s at Harvard University, then on to Oxford, England as a Rhodes Scholar at Brasenose College. He was awarded his doctorate from the University of Oxford for his dissertation on the history of the anarco-syndicalist movement in 1920s Spain.
Returning to America, he dove into politics as aide to Illinois governor and presidential candidate Adlai Stevenson and as a political science professor at St. Mary’s College back in South Bend.
In 1958, on his third try, he won election from Indiana's Third Congressional District and would represent his fellow Hoosiers in Washington, D.C. for more than two decades, distinguishing himself as a champion of progressive legislation, education, and the arts. Serving in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1959 to 1981 he was a member of three Committees: Education and Labor, House Administration, and the Joint (House-Senate) Committee on the Library of Congress. He was for the last four of those years, by appointment of Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill, Majority Whip, the third ranking member of the Democratic leadership in the House.
The first native-born American of Greek origin elected to Congress. John Brademas earned a reputation on Capitol Hill as a leading force in the creation of legislation concerning education, arts and humanities, vocational rehabilitation, services for the elderly and disabled, and libraries and museums. He was chief House sponsor of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act); Environmental Education Act; Library Services and Construction Act; Arts, Humanities and Cultural Affairs Act; Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Act; Museum Services Act; the Older Americans Comprehensive Services Act; and the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act (the “Nixon tapes” bill).
Defeated in his last race for reelection during the Reagan landslide of 1980, John Brademas moved from Washington. D.C. to Washington Square to become the 13th President of New York University. It was a time of uncertainty for NYU, which was only a few years removed from serious financial difficulties. But he did not shrink from the challenge: in 1984, he launched a major, transformative fundraising campaign that succeeded in raising more than $1 billion for the University. As President he led the expansion of dorms and classroom space, the recruitment of new faculty, and oversaw the opening of a number of major campus programs and learning centers, including the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, the Casa Italiana Zerilli- Marimo, and the Center for Japan-US Business and Economic Studies. His presidency marked the start of NYU's transformation from a regional university to its present status as a nationally and internationally renowned scholarly and research institution—one of the great success stories in higher education.
He continued to be active in public life even after becoming President Emeritus in 1992. He served as Chairman of President Bill Clinton's Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and of the National Endowment for Democracy. And at NYU he was the driving force behind the creation of the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center and the John Brademas Center.
John Brademas passed away in 2016. Thanks to the generous support of his wife Dr. Mary Ellen Brademas and the trustees of the John Brademas Foundation, the John Brademas Center of New York University is carrying forward his legacy of public service to future generations.