Never one to mince words, former Philomath Superintendent of Schools Philip “Buzz” Brazeau always tackled challenges with a straightforward approach. During his year on the job in Philomath, he dealt with an uncertain future for the high school’s swimming pool and the day-to-day craziness connected with the pandemic.
“He was a straight shooter, yeah,” Philomath Academy Principal Dan Johnson said. “You didn’t have to agree with him but you knew where he was. For some people, that ruffled their feathers … but he told you what he thought and he wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought.”
Jim Kildea, a former School Board member involved with his hiring in 2019, had similar comments.
“He had a very matter-of-fact style of sharing his thoughts and opinions and he had the ability to balance the needs of students, staff, parents and the taxpayer community with the decisions he made and leadership he provided,” Kildea said. “He kept that balance, largely due to his scientific and business-like approach to issues and opportunities.”
Just 18 months after leaving his position at the local school district and through a series of health issues, Brazeau died Wednesday, Jan. 12, at his home in Salem. He was 72.
In all, Brazeau finished with nearly a quarter-century of administrative service at various schools and districts. While on the job at Philomath, he didn’t like “interim” being attached to his job title.
“I’m going to act as if I’m the superintendent who will be here for the next 20 years,” he said in June 2019. “I think that’s what the kids deserve, it’s what the community deserves and it’s what the teachers deserve.”
Brazeau got back into education after retiring in 2017 from the Central School District, which serves the area that includes the communities of Monmouth and Independence. Brazeau took over the local district’s leadership position after former superintendent Melissa Goff’s resignation.
Johnson first met Brazeau at the June 20, 2019 School Board meeting when he was officially hired for the position. Johnson worked closely with Brazeau and they developed a friendship during his 12 months on the job.
“He was working to move the district forward,” Johnson said. “He had visions and ideas about the growth of the district as developments were coming along.”
Those visions and ideas included Johnson’s establishment of Philomath Academy.
“He was looking at the growth of the academy … so that we could serve more students and reach out a little further,” Johnson said. “So you know, really, he was a visionary … he used a business plan mentality to help bring people on board and move a project forward.”
Brazeau had intentions of staying in the interim superintendent’s job for a second year while the school district worked on which direction it wanted to take for a permanent solution. Plus, he could continue to lead the district through the intense challenges of COVID-19, which had taken hold in March 2020.
But a medical issue involving his heart led him to give up the job.
“I just didn’t feel like I could honestly be beneficial to the district and keep my mind on my health — I just had to make a decision,” Brazeau said at the time. “After I got my diagnosis and found out that I was going to have a procedure done, I spent one weekend where I couldn’t focus. As soon as I started to experience that, I recognized that the time had come. If I can’t focus, I need to be out.”
Brazeau made it through heart surgery and then had to endure a hip-replacement surgery — not his first, Johnson said. Then in a devastating development, Brazeau was diagnosed with brain cancer, which required aggressive treatments.
Said Johnson, “When nature wanted to bring him home, it got him.”
Brazeau was able to be discharged from the hospital so he could spend the time that he had left with his family, Johnson said.
Following Brazeau’s departure from the district in July 2020, Johnson stayed in touch.
“I was very appreciative of his compassion and his interest in being a mentor to me and I still quote him or quote stories about him a lot,” Johnson said. “He definitely inspired my form of leadership as I do it today.”
Kildea said Brazeau served the school district well during his service in Philomath.
“Buzz had a unique background — first as an athlete playing pro football, then spent some time in business, then became an educator teaching high school science, then to a K-12 school administrator,” Kildea said. “His unique background and experiences contributed to his behavior and overall demeanor. Buzz was practical, pragmatic and cared for both students and staff.”
Brazeau was born in Michigan and spent part of his childhood there before his family moved to Pullman, Washington. Brazeau earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Washington State University and later a master’s degree in science education from Southern Oregon University.
Brazeau excelled in football and played collegiately at Washington State, where he was a three-year starter on the offensive line. At 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds during his playing days, Brazeau earned several postseason honors, including All-Pacific-8 during his senior year with the Cougars. He was also invited to play in the East-West Shrine Game.
In May 1972, Brazeau signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Rams but was released before the season in his first year and after the second regular-season game in his second year. Brazeau then played in the World Football League with the Portland Storm in 1974 and 1975 before getting another shot at the NFL in 1976 with the Green Bay Packers. But a knee injury ultimately ended his opportunity at making the season roster.
In the late 1980s, Brazeau got into coaching at Franklin High School in Portland. In the following years, he moved up the ranks in his education endeavors at North Medford, Hermiston and Central before his move to Philomath.
Brazeau is survived by his wife, Kathy Brazeau, and five children.
A memorial service is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 22, at the Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Salem.