J. Marshall Bruce Jr. dies at age 89

A beloved eccentric who was a clinical psychologist and head of the English department at Boys' Latin School

August 01, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

J. Marshall Bruce Jr., a clinical psychologist and teacher who headed the English department at Boys' Latin School for more than two decades, died Wednesday of heart failure at the Presbyterian Home of Maryland in Towson.

The longtime Elkridge Estates resident was 89.

Mr. Bruce, the son of a Mount Royal Avenue automobile dealership owner and a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Greenspring Valley Road.

After graduating from Gilman School in 1939, he entered Princeton University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1943. He completed graduate studies at Harvard University and was a research fellow in clinical psychology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

In 1953, Mr. Bruce was co-author with Dr. Caroline Bedell Thomas of "A Method of Rating Certain Personality Factors as Determined by the Rorschach Test For Use in the Study of the Precursors of Hypertension and Coronary Artery Disease."

Mr. Bruce had taught at the Severn School, St. Paul's School and the Hill School in Pottstown, Pa., before joining Boys' Latin in 1960 as assistant headmaster and English department chair.

Mr. Bruce's tenure at Boys' Latin began as the school moved from its old Brevard Street home in downtown Baltimore to its present location on Lake Avenue in North Baltimore.

During his 24-year career, Mr. Bruce had been dean of the faculty, director of guidance and counseling, chairman of the modern language department, senior prefect, director of the psychology seminar and adviser to the school newspaper.

"He was an icon and a giant here at Boys' Latin," said Lee McCardell "Mac" Kennedy, who graduated from the private school in 1976 and is the school's director of alumni affairs.

"He was an eccentric guy but well-loved within the Boys' Latin community. He was my adviser for four years and I knew him very well," Mr. Kennedy said.

"He was one of the best English teachers I ever had, especially with Shakespeare's 'Hamlet' and Tennessee Williams plays, especially 'Streetcar Named Desire.'"

Mr. Kennedy recalled that his teacher had an "incredible vocabulary and all BL students remember some of the multisyllabic words he taught us: excoriating, altruistic, sycophant, bombastic, titillating, elucidating, maudlin and vitriolic."

He said that Mr. Bruce carried a walking stick, which he dubbed an "Etonian beezer-bopper," and that his favorite expression was "I'll say!"

"He was an incredible teacher and he really made the school work," said Dr. Bruce L. Regan, a Baltimore psychologist who graduated from the school in 1966.

"He was a nervous, neurotic, nerdy guy who was a 'Mr. Chips' in need of Prozac, and I loved him," Dr. Regan said with a laugh.

"He was very bright and was incredibly interested in not only teaching English but getting us to think, read and write, and helping us how to make it in the adult world. He made you think whether you wanted to or not," he said.

Mr. Bruce was not a big fan of the high school sports "jockistic" culture, whose various aspects he more or less tolerated, Mr. Kennedy said.

"At a school like BL that wasn't too big in those days, everyone played a sport and especially lacrosse," Dr. Regan said. "But despite his anti-jock views, everyone loved Mr. Bruce. There was something about his personality and his dedication to teaching, and everyone had a great relationship with him."

Dr. Regan said his teacher had been a tremendous influence in his decision to become a psychologist.

A quiet, diminutive, modest figure, Mr. Bruce regularly shunned the spotlight, former students said.

For nearly 40 years until moving to the Presbyterian home, Mr. Bruce lived at nearby Elkridge Estates and each day walked from his home to school.

After retiring in 1986 he became something of a recluse, but while he wouldn't see former students, he'd talk with them by telephone.

Mr. Bruce was an accomplished jazz drummer and vibraphonist.

"He also collected erotic art," said his niece and only survivor, Dancy Bruce Mills of Glen Arm.

At Mr. Bruce's request, no services will be held.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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