Professor Craig Brians: A Remembrance

Nov 21, 2013

The Blacksburg community lost a bright light recently.  Virginia Tech Political Science Professor died suddenly at his home earlier this month. 

Brians was a witty and energetic teacher who not only kept his students engaged, but also helped public radio listeners better understand the intricacies of electoral politics.  

Brians had been a police officer in California, where he grew up, but after a serious back injury on the job forced him to give up police work, he got a PhD in Political Science and came to Blacksburg to teach at Virginia Tech 15 years ago.

“This is a very physically fit place and a lot of people are able to be very active and that’s wonderful," he said.

Brians loved the outdoors.  And he loved the fact that it was easy for him to take advantage of not only the natural beauty but the indoor pool in this that helped ease his back pain.

“How many places could you live in the middle of the Appalachian mountains and have a lot of those kinds of amenities and good doctors too.”

We met for a story about Brians’s area of specialty; Virginia’s elections, but we got to talking about other things, like his disability, which made standing in front of a class for long periods of time, painful.  During our interview he was in a special chair, which took the pressure off his back.  He would sometimes teach class that way.

“I didn’t let myself do that for the first number of years I as here but eventually I realized, really, a college education is very little about how many members are there in the electoral college: 538. And it’s really more about learning how they are going to pursue the rest of their lives. How are they going to be able to figure out when they move to a new city how to find their way around. So what we need to teach them is how to get to that next step, how are they going to get to that next level, but a big part of that is learning about life.”

“ He really was very important on campus in terms of insisting in a gentle but still persistent way that attention be paid to people with physical disabilities,” said Karen Hult, a professor of Political Science at Virginia Tech and a colleague. “I also feel like I’m a minor beneficiary, I have MS and he always was concerned with scheduling when I taught.. that I was not facing any additional problems because of that set of challenges.”

Hult and Brians were a regular duo on WVTF elections specials. At one point in the election night returns special just a few weeks ago, Anchor Bev Amsler mistakenly referred to them as a married couple.  "I just want to correct one thing. Dr.Hult and I are not married. My wife and her husband would not be happy to hear that!”

Craig Brians met his actual wife Jessica Folkart, a professor of Spanish, here in Blacksburg.  He told me she taught him many things.  One was how to be better about allowing himself to ask people for help when he needed it.  He said that had long been difficult for him, because previous his role as a police officer meant he was the one who did the helping. Craig Brians was 51 years old.