John David Brantley M’54 died on Dec. 29, 2019, just days shy of his 91st birthday. Brantley joined the Trinity English Department in 1965 and served as chair nearly until his retirement in 1992.
Except for three years of military service, John Brantley never wandered far from his family roots in Texas. His intellectual journey, however, was continuous, wide-ranging, and characterized by sustained efforts to be an effective communicator, motivator, and mentor. Born in Yancey, Texas, and raised in San Antonio, Brantley graduated from Harlandale High School in 1946. He later earned three degrees, all with a major in English: a bachelor’s at Texas State Teachers College in San Marcos, a master’s from Trinity University, and a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin.
One former Trinity English Department member described Brantley as “one of those kinds of leaders who encouraged people to find their own way to contribute to the department and grow as persons.” He also mentioned that Brantley’s sense of humor, fairness, and community were hallmarks of his chairmanship.
In addition to departmental responsibilities, Brantley served on a number of committees, including chairing the University Curriculum Council and the Faculty Research and Development Committee. Beyond the University, Brantley read papers at various regional and national educational societies, wrote articles and book reviews, and published a study of the works of John Dos Passos.
Brantley derived his greatest enjoyment, however, from interaction with undergraduate and graduate students in classrooms and informal settings. He told a Trinitonian reporter, “I love teaching and being able to talk about literature with people. It’s not a teaching device; it’s more a part of me.”
According to Naomi Shihab Nye ’74, former student and a student assistant in the English department office, Brantley earned his students’ respect “through his tremendous wisdom and insight about American literature, always treated us with great dignity and care, was open to our thoughts and ideas, and inspired many of us to read books and consider voices which would have landmark effects on our thinking.”
Throughout his lifetime, he showed a great passion for growing things, both on family farms and on the land around his and wife Jaynet's home. He loved music and especially enjoyed singing. Reading remained a major pastime into his later years, as well as writing poetry.
Services will be held Sunday, January 19, at 11 a.m. at Sunset Memorial Park and Funeral Home, 1701 Austin Highway, San Antonio, Texas, 78218.
Obituary adapted from “Where are they now?,” written for Trinity magazine by R. Douglas Brackenridge.