The Road from Jamaica to Blackburn College and a Career in Higher Ed

Roy Hugh McLeod

Dr. Roy Hugh McLeod ’61 came to Blackburn College from his home in Jamaica, where he’d heard about Blackburn from alumni who were also natives of the island. In fact, Jamaicans Gloria (DaCosta) Moncrieffe ’55 and Pearlie (Panton) Mennel ‘55 were among the first women of color to attend Blackburn, as did Cecil Henry ‘60.

Encouraged to attend Blackburn by Jamaican Presbyterian minister Rev. H.D. Swaby, Roy was sponsored by the First Presbyterian Church of Springfield. Roy arrived by train in Carlinville in 1957 and was met by Mary Cosner who picked him up at the Carlinville train station. He remembers the day he was introduced to Cecil Henry who would be Roy’s roommate in Butler Hall for three years. Cecil was also from Jamaica and was a year ahead of Roy. Roy moved to the newly completed Graham Hall for his senior year.

Roy was intent on attending college and did not have a specific school in mind. Jamaica required that he specify a course of study. He wanted to go into engineering; studying mathematics was not in his plan. At age 23 he was one of the older freshman students at Blackburn because he took a few years to work after high school.

Roy credits Blackburn’s Work Program and Math Professor Virgil Bretthauer with changing his career focus to teaching math. Roy was tapped as Student Marshall his senior year, and he believes being a good Blackburn citizen led to that honor—academics, work, and participation in varsity track and soccer.

Although Roy worked for two years as a janitor, he was later assigned to be a tutor in the math department, working for Mr. Virgil Bretthauer. According to Roy, “It was joyful working in the math department. We enjoyed each other’s company very much. Mr. Bretthauer convinced me to go into mathematics and was a wonderful mentor for me in many ways. In fact, he became like a stepfather to me.

“Mr. Bretthauer didn’t limit his role to just helping students develop math skills. I remember he was active with students in other ways—such as driving us athletes to track meets and soccer games.

“With Mr. Bretthauer’s encouragement, I applied for entry into a master’s degree math program at New Highland University in New Mexico. He knew there was a former Blackburn faculty member teaching there at the time. When I was accepted, I received a full fellowship, including tuition, room and board, and a stipend.

“Mr. Bretthauer drove me to the St. Louis train station after I graduated even though I had to be at the station at 2:00 in the morning! He was hopeful that I could come back to Blackburn to teach math after I finished at New Highland. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

Roy is convinced that Blackburn did an exceptional job educating him and preparing him for his teaching career in mathematics. He made long-lasting friendships and gained work experience he otherwise would not have gotten. Roy remembers the total commitment to students on the part of his professors. In addition to Mr. Bretthauer, he especially remembers Dr. Hood (chemistry), Dr. Campbell (physics and chemistry), Mrs. Plotnick (French), and Kenneth Itschner (chemistry).

Mr. Bretthauer’s instruction style became Roy’s model for teaching.  “I especially liked his seriousness about the subject and his professional style.”

Roy began teaching in New York in 1963. Invited by Cecil Henry, Roy came for the summer and obtained a summer job as a security guard at a facility for incarcerated girls. Knowing that was not the career path he wanted, he and Cecil Henry’s wife, Dianne (Kalna) ‘62, polished his resume and sent it to several colleges in the New York area. He obtained an appointment as a part-time math instructor at Hunter College and then received another offer to teach full-time math at Manhattan College in the Bronx. He took both jobs.

Then in 1971, Roy accepted a teaching position at the newly established LaGuardia Community College where he became the first chairperson of the math department in 1976 and was later promoted to Dean of the Faculty. Before he retired, he was an associate executive with the president, writing the president’s speeches among other duties. Prior to retirement, Roy served as Dean of Institutional Advancement. He spent 48 years at LaGuardia (26 of them full-time). While working at LaGuardia, he earned an Ed.D at Columbia University.

“I would enjoy telling today’s students about my experiences and what Blackburn has meant to me,” says Roy. “I didn’t know much about the field of mathematics until the Work Program assigned me to work in the math department. That job and Mr. Bretthauer changed my life! Students must be open to new experiences and directions during their time at Blackburn.”

Regarding Blackburn and its future, Roy says, “It’s important and a priority for me to support Blackburn—especially scholarships and areas where my support is most needed. Blackburn had a life-changing impact on me, and so I want to pay it back. I want future students to have the opportunities and life lessons at college that I had.”