The face looking out from the front page of the July 8th Toledo Blade was somehow familiar. I wondered whether the short beard and bicycle helmet were just archetypal, or somehow I had actually seen them and they had stuck in my memory. The main connection I have in Toledo is that I attend a UU church there once or twice a month, but I could not remember seeing him there. The Blade reported that a 66 year old man named Robert Brundage had been assaulted and beaten on June 22 while returning from a civic meeting under the label Jobs with Justice, one of many civic groups he participated in or organized in Toledo, the rustbelt Ohio home town to which he had returned in 1997 after a career as an research scientist and engineer in Massachusetts. Brundage was involved with over twenty civic organizations, probably far too many to maximize effectiveness, thus giving some support to the view of the personal friend who described him with respect and affection as a true eccentric. Ironically, while many of his civic efforts were aimed at bettering the lives of the poor people of Toledo, it was one of those people who assaulted him, breaking his jaw and causing bleeding into the brain, resulting in his death on July 7. And it was a good brain; he had earned a doctorate in biophysics at Brandeis University west of Boston in 1969. We might well have had mutual acquaintances, since I had friends at Brandeis in that period, although primarily in biochemistry. Brundage's topics, such as applied acoustics and biophysics, are close enough to areas in which I have published that I have an idea of how such a person thinks, which creates a sort of immediate intimacy when one meets a previously unknown colleague, for instance at the Acoustical Society. So to some extent I recognized him, although I did not know him.
Dr. John C. Jones, president of the Greater Toledo Urban League, posted on the League's website a memorial on the passing of Brundage, with an important observation. Considering the motivation of his attacker, he wrote, "Make no mistake, the answer is not as simple as "he was a bad kid". We as a community must dig deeper to address and confront the areas of dysfunction that surround our youth, from families to institutions to individuals." Toledo is a city with about 14% overall unemployment of adults of working age. For Afro-Americans such as the young man accused of attacking Bob Brundage, unemployment is appreciably higher. When I lived in Los Angeles, my memory is that at any one time about half of the young black males were in trouble with the legal system. Until recently, for some time one of that number was my adopted youngest son, who stayed and worked in LA after his parents left, and made some poor decisions. To gradually work his way through the legal system until he could become self-supporting again after that cost much of the money I had set aside for retirement. Without those resources, it would have been impossible to ever get him out of the legal maze which has an effect much more destructive than many of the petty crimes that it punishes, with the result that the United States has about one person in a hundred adults in prison, more than any other country in the world (see "Incarceration in the United States " in Wikipedia). 70% of those incarcerated are non-white. As my youngest son said wonderingly and appreciatively to me recently about the situation from which he has emerged over the past few years, "Most people don't come back from there." Instead, they often lash out at the world around them in aimless but partly understandable fury.
I attended First UU Church of Toledo on the Sunday after Brundage's death, and when I was leaving I stowed my name tag up on the board near the entrance. On the line above it, about an inch away, I saw the name tag of Robert Brundage; probably I had subconsciously noted that name on one of my visits earlier. His religious affiliation was not mentioned in the July 8 Toledo Blade article about him which I have drawn on above, although the names of a First Church UU couple active in interfaith and civic affairs, quoted in the article as friends of Brundage, would lead to that connection. Most probably I had seen him at church and stored that image. He was a friend of First Church, and he was also a friend of the rest of the world.