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Former schools superintendent dies

June 01, 1999|By GREG SIMMONS

WILLIAMSPORT - William M. Brish, a former Washington County schools superintendent and a pioneer in educational television, died Tuesday at his Homewood at Williamsport apartment. He was 92.

A Frederick County, Md., native, Brish became schools superintendent in Washington County in 1947. He held that job until his retirement in 1973.

"He was one of the great innovators of his age," said Claude Kitchens, who succeeded Brish as schools superintendent. "He put Hagerstown on the map."

Brish pushed for technology in the classroom. He pioneered educational television, an innovation that was to become a model for school systems in Maryland, the nation and eventually, the world.

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He was part of a group that under Ford Foundation sponsorship traveled to India in 1960 and 1961 to promote educational television.

In 1963, Brish and members of the Washington County Board of Education went to Nigeria to help that county enhance its educational television capabilities.

When Brish took the helm in Washington county, 20 schools had no indoor plumbing or heating. By the end of his 26-year tenure, one- and two-room school houses had been replaced by new structures.

During his tenure, the school system began a kindergarten program, opened the Outdoor School and a vocational-technical center.

"I'm still in shock," said Sarah Row, who was a teacher during his superintendency. "He was an excellent person.

"He kept us on his toes, but he was never nasty. His motto was 'Working together,' and he meant it," she said.

Brish earned bachelor's degrees in history and education at Franklin and Marshall College in 1928, and his master's at Columbia University in 1932.

He was working toward a doctorate from George Washington University, but all his work, along with his family's belongings, were destroyed in a moving truck fire in 1947. He received an honorary doctorate from Franklin & Marshall.

Brish began his career in 1928 as a teacher and then principal in Frederick County schools. He also was an assistant superintendent in Prince George's County and superintendent in Kent County.

Kitchens said he was working in South Carolina at the time Brish was working with television in Washington County, and South Carolina schools sent people to Hagerstown to "see how they did it."

Brish's daughter, Margaret Wagner, said her father was a "bookaholic." She said he at one time owned more than 12,000 books, and still had more than 8,000 after giving books away to his children, donating to charity and losing some to the moving truck fire. "Those were his treasures," she said.

He had published two books, one in 1994, "Growing up in Frederick in the Early Years of the Twentieth Century," and a second about his late wife, Rachel, Row said.

The Homewood newsletter noted that Brish surfed the Internet for up to six hours a night.

"He acted more like a kid than most kids as far as looking at life and wanting new things," Wagner said.

On May 7, The Washington County Retired Teachers Association honored Brish at a luncheon.

Brish is survived by his three daughters, Marianne Evett of Cleveland, Ohio, Marcia Shenk, of Silver Spring, Md., and Margaret Wagner of Hagerstown.

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