In Memoriam – Ross Brightwell
PHILADELPHIA––Ross Brightwell, 69, former president of Eastern Pennsylvania Conference UM Men from 2007 to 2015, died March 27.
While president, the former Army officer established a flood of conference-wide activities including a softball tournament, a day at the zoo, a day at the Phillies Baseball Park, a day at an amusement park, and Society of St. Andrew produce packing events during sessions of the Eastern Pennsylvania Annual Conference.
Brightwell, a former vice president of the Northeastern Jurisdiction of UM Men, always attended meetings of the National Association of Conference Presidents and frequently suggested ways in which presidents could raise funds for men’s ministry.
Brightwell, who never married, listed his most thrilling accomplishment as receiving Indiana University of Pennsylvania's President's Medal of Distinction, the highest non-academic award the college gives, for developing the school's “Boost Music in Our Schools” program.
That honor followed years of service in a high school marching band in his native Fayette City, Pa. He also played in the Indiana University of Pennsylvania (IUP) marching band from 1964 to 1966 and became the school mascot – The Big Indian – at football games.
In September of 1969, Brightwell got drafted for Vietnam one semester short of graduating. He showed up in Uniontown to enlist but never boarded the bus.
“They start reading off the names and they load the buses and I'm still standing there,” Brightwell said. “The lady said, ‘Go ahead, roll.' I said, ‘Ma'am, I'm still here'.”
Turns out, President Richard Nixon was cutting down on the draft and Brightwell never received a letter stating he was no longer drafted. He had already quit school and gotten his tuition refunded.
“I'm sitting there scratching my head thinking ‘What do I do now?' when the recruiting sergeant puts a hand on my shoulder and said, ‘You’re a college boy, aren't you? You ever consider Officer Candidate School?'”
Brightwell soon settled in the Army as a second lieutenant and ended up stationed for three years in Germany, just north of Nuremburg.
“Our unit was like every other unit. We'd sit on the border and stare at the Russians staring back at us,” he said.
When he completed his Army career in 1979, Brightwell headed back to IUP to complete his last semester a decade later. He was stunned at how the school had changed: co-ed dorms, no curfews and recreational drug use.
But Brightwell's biggest culture shock was when he got a job working for a private company in Saudi Arabia in the 1980s. He said the country is basically three large cities with desert filling out the rest of the landscape.
In 1986, Brightwell came back to Pennsylvania and volunteered as the IUP marching band's travel manager and announcer for the 225 piece band.
During his 14 years of service, the band performed at halftimes for the Steelers, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns.
After moving to Philadelphia to care for his mother, Brightwell continued to coordinate meetings for a Steelers fan club. Every Sunday during the football season, a crowd of 80 fans gathered at a Philadelphia restaurant to cheer on the cross-state franchise.