CWU News

CWU remembers former President James E. Brooks

Former Central Washington University President James E. Brooks passed away peacefully on Sunday, April 2, in Ellensburg. Brooks, 91, was the president of Central Washington College of Education (CWCE), Central Washington State College (CWSC), and Central Washington University from 1961 through 1978.

Brooks, who was named a distinguished alumnus in 1986, is the only alum to serve as president, and the youngest person to serve as president; he became president at just 35 years of age.

“Katie and I have had the honor and pleasure to get to known Jim and Lillian [Brooks], and consider them friends,” said CWU President James L. Gaudino. “No one loved Central more than Jim and we’ll all miss his commitment, humor, and friendship.”

Born near Mossyrock, Brooks grew up during the Great Depression. A naval veteran of World War II, he attended CWCE, where he received his bachelor’s degree in geography in 1949. Brooks taught geography at Central in 1952; he also taught geography classes while still a graduate student at the University of Washington, where he earned his Ph.D.

Under Brooks’s tenure, Central grew in size and scope from a small teacher’s college into a comprehensive, master’s-granting regional university. During his time in office, CWCE became CWSC, in 1961, and CWU, in 1976.

Brooks listed growth of the quality and quantity of the school’s faculty during that period, along with the establishment and development of the CWU faculty senate and CWU Foundation, as hallmarks of his administration. The campus also expanded by 20 buildings, and from 100 to more than 300 acres, while the student body went from 2,320 to 7,483 during his time in office.

After stepping down as president, he rejoined the faculty full time and taught geography and geology courses through 1985 and, again, from 1987 until in 1993. He was honored for his work in the classroom with a distinguished professor of geography award in 1989.

Brooks also started the Friends of the Library to help fund and promote the library as the center of campus learning. Brooks and his wife, Lillian (Literal), a 1950 graduate of Central, later established a library endowment. In honor of those accomplishments, the CWU library was named the James E. Brooks Library in 2003. Last fall, they donated two new custom benches, which have been installed near the Library. One lists the names of the Brookses and their five children, while the second includes Brooks’s graduation year and the inscription, “Go Wildcats!”

“The library’s faculty and staff saw Dr. Brooks as one of our most ardent and devoted supporters,” said Patricia Cutright, CWU dean of library services. “His support went far beyond monetary, including notes of encouragement when needed, accolades for the hard work being done, and his tireless promotion of the library and all that it’s done for the university and the community at large. His contributions will always be there to remind us of the importance he saw in the library and our service to the community.”

The Brooks also initiated a scholarship for CWU geography students. The James and Lillian Brooks/Reginald and Isabel Shaw Geography Endowment has awarded more than 100 scholarships, in excess of $50,000, to undergraduate majors since 1997.

Last year, the CWU Alumni Association honored Brooks with a lifetime achievement award.

Brooks also was the driving force behind formation of the Council of Presidents, which fostered unprecedented collaboration among Washington public university presidents that continues today. He served as president of that organization and of the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, which is now the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities.

Brooks served as president of Yakima Valley Community College, and was a member of the college’s governing board. In all, he was appointed to five state commissions by four different governors. He served as a faculty member at Eastern Washington University and Portland State University.

Brooks was instrumental in the development of Washington Business Week, through spearheading meetings involving state business and education leaders. For his work to create career pathways in business, Brooks received the Outstanding Service award for Leadership in Economic Education for High School Students.

In 1990, Brooks served as United Way chair for Kittitas County.

Media contact: Robert Lowery, director of radio services and integrated communications, 509-963-1487,

April 3, 2017