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Thompson Bradley, 85, Swarthmore College Russian professor and anti-war activist

Professor Bradley's intellectual life focused on the history, language, and literature of Russia, but it also informed his political activism. “I can’t imagine only doing activism, or only teaching,” he once said.

Thompson Bradley
Thompson BradleyRead moreCourtesy of Swarthmore College (custom credit)

Services will be Saturday, Dec. 21, for Thompson Bradley, 85, a retired Swarthmore College Russian professor and anti-war activist who died Sunday, Sept. 22, of renal disease at his home in Rose Valley.

In an Oct. 3 announcement of Professor Bradley’s death, college president Valerie Smith said that the Swarthmore college community had lost one of its most respected faculty members.

“His teaching and passionate intellectual engagement with Russian language and literature were inseparable from his lifelong commitment to, and advocacy for, peace and social justice,” Smith said.

Professor Bradley earned a bachelor’s degree in Russian from Yale University in 1956 and served for two years in the Army in Germany. Afterward, he pursued advanced study in Slavic languages and literature at Columbia University.

In 1961, he spent a year at Moscow State University as one of 35 American exchange scholars. While there, he mingled with members of the Soviet dissident movement that had developed during the transition from Joseph Stalin to Nikita Khrushchev.

He taught briefly at New York University before joining the Swarthmore faculty in 1962 as an instructor. Over the next four decades, he became a professor of Russian language and literature with a specialty in the relationships among Russia’s language, its literature, and its revolutionary history.

That in turn inspired his social and political activism, the Quaker school wrote in a tribute.

“He was a born teacher, completely dedicated to his students. His preferred space was always the classroom,” said longtime friend and Swarthmore colleague John Hassett, professor emeritus of modern and classical languages.

“I recall Tom's gift for making his interlocutor feel heard and appreciated,” said Sibelan Forrester, a fellow Swarthmore Russian professor. “His face would light up in a very affirming way when he heard a good idea or an interesting story.”

Professor Bradley routinely met with students before a major research paper was due, and after it was turned in. That was “a uniquely generous investment of time and a sign of his devotion as a teacher,” said Marion Faber, Swarthmore professor emerita in the humanities and German.

Professor Bradley mobilized students and faculty against the Vietnam War. Later, he protested American military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. He mentored conscientious objectors and arranged for other faculty members to learn mentoring. He created the first Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on campus.

“Tom impressed with his passion for literature, and his commitment to social change through action,” said Dorothy Louise, a friend from New York City. “Although he loved discussion and debate, he went well beyond talk in acting on his beliefs, a rare quality that too few of us can claim.”

He was a member of Veterans for Peace, and supported About Face/Veterans Against the War, Amnesty International, the Women’s Law Project, and Democracy Now!

“He always sought to bridge the divide between the walls of academia and those less privileged, including teaching in prisons over many years,” Faber said.

After retiring from Swarthmore in 2001, Professor Bradley continued to offer courses in the college’s alumni lifelong learning program.

“I think there are fewer and fewer people in academia today who think of their lives as having to do with a practice outside of academia,” Professor Bradley said at his retirement. “I can’t imagine only doing activism or only teaching. To me, they seem as indivisible as literature and history.”

Born in New Haven, Conn., to Donald F. Bradley and Orril Thompson Bradley, he was raised on a farm. He studied French and Latin at the Hotchkiss School, but it was in his senior year that he encountered Russian, igniting his lifelong passion.

He married Anne Cushman Noble in 1956. They had three children, whom they raised in Moylan and Rose Valley.

Besides his wife, he is survived by daughters Alexa, Marya, and Justine; two grandchildren; and three brothers.

A memorial celebration will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 21, in Upper Tarble, Clothier Memorial Hall, on the Swarthmore College campus.

Donations may be made to Veterans for Peace via