by R. Douglas Brackenridge
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. from the University of Texas at Austin.
After teaching positions in San Antonio high schools and at San Antonio College, Brantley joined the Trinity University Department of English in 1965 and served as chair from 1968 until he retired in 1992. During years of major curricular changes at Trinity, Brantley worked collegially with department members to adapt to new assignments. One former 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 chair of 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 book, The Fiction 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.” One of his favorite authors was Thomas Pynchon, then a rising literary star. His style of writing was a challenge to teach, but Brantley found the effort rewarding because it generated discussion and encouraged reflection. 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.”
In retirement, Brantley and his spouse, Jaynet Fajkus ’51, enjoyed life at a leisurely pace in their comfortable home on the south side of San Antonio. They had known each other since grade school days in San Antonio and had a serendipitous reunion in adulthood. Their daily routine consisted primarily of reading, writing, and gardening. The couple has two sons, John David, a scientist in Syracuse, N.Y., and Peter ’84, a digital archivist in San Francisco, and one granddaughter. Jaynet died in 2009, and Brantley now lives by himself in the family home. He does not do much gardening these days, but reading is still a major pastime. Above all, his love of conversation and keen sense of humor remain undiminished by time.
Brantley welcomes e-mail at dbrantley28 [at] sbcglobal.net.