In Memoriam: H. Brett Melendy
Barbara Bennett Peterson, September 2008
San José State University and University of Hawai'i Professor and Administrator
Life member of the American Historical Association, H. Brett Melendy, who was both professor and administrator at two major universities—San José University and the University of Hawai'i—passed away on April 19, 2008. Howard Brett Melendy was born in Eureka, California, in 1924 to Howard Burton and Pearl Marjorie (Brett) Melendy. Melendy married Marian Ethel Robinson in 1952 and they had three daughters: Brenda Dale, Darcie Brett, and Lisa Marie. Melendy attended Humboldt State College from 1942–45 but received his BA in English from Stanford University in 1946. He earned an MA in education from Stanford in 1948 and a PhD from Stanford in history in 1952. I remember, as a Stanford University graduate alumni myself, joining Brett and Marian in working the fundraising phone lines making calls for Stanford's Phone-a-thon in Honolulu, Hawai'i, when we both were professors at the University of Hawai'i.
Melendy joined the faculty of San José State College in 1955 and was soon elevated to full professor and served as head of the history department. He received grants from the American Philosophical Society in 1962 and 1974. He was an American Council of Education Fellow in Academic Administration in 1967–68. His administrative talents were soon recognized at San José State and he was asked to serve as assistant vice-president in 1968–69 and promoted to acting academic vice-president in 1969.
His career in teaching and administration at San José State University brought him to the attention of other institutions of higher learning and he was called to serve in administration at the University of Hawai'i in Honolulu. He served as UH vice president for the two-year campuses of the University of Hawaii from 1970 to 1973, which numbered seven out of ten campuses of the University of Hawai'i system. At this same time Brett Melendy served as a tenured full professor in the history department of the University of Hawai'i at Manoa. I remember working with him as co-grantee on an NEH planning grant to improve university humanities teaching in 1975–76, and again with Melendy and Robert Van Niel on another NEH planning grant, in 1976–78, to improve the university's teaching of World Civilizations, which he strongly endorsed as an academic subject. This enlarged the scope of the more traditional Western civilization that had been taught at Stanford. The University of Hawai'i remains distinguished as the first university in the U.S. to teach a course in world civilization (1945) and the history department remains the headquarters for the editorship-publication of the Journal of World History, edited by Jerry Bentley, and is the headquarters of the World History Association.
H. Brett Melendy was called back, following his retirement from the University of Hawai'i in 1979, his promotion to emeritus professor, and his family's return to the mainland, to serve once again at San José State University where he was dean of undergraduate studies from 1979 to 1981. He served as associate academic vice-president for undergraduate studies from 1981–83, university archivist from 1983–87, and from 1986–87 as interim dean for academic development. Following his retirement from San José State he was also awarded an emeritus professorship as he had been in Hawai'i.
Brett Melendy's distinguished and notable career included writing major books on California and Hawaiian social conditions and politics. He wrote Governors of California: Peter H. Burnett to Edmund G. Brown (1965) with Benjamin F. Gilbert. His special field of research interest was America's multiple ethnic groups and he published Oriental Americans (1972), Asians in America: Filipinos, Koreans, and East Indians (1977), and Chinese and Japanese Americans (1984), books popular in both California and Hawai'i and utilized in many classrooms as texts. At the University of Hawai'i he taught an important class on the history of education that attracted teachers of all of Hawai'i's ethnicities and this laid a significant foundation so important in public instruction in the islands. He published in numerous professional journals including the Hawaiian Journal of History and contributed articles to many encyclopedias. In community life, Brett Melendy was a ruling elder of the Presbyterian Church.
In retirement and during visits to Hawai'i, Melendy wrote the book Hawaii, America's Sugar Territory 1898–1959 (Edwin Mellen Press, 1999) with Rhoda Armstrong Hackler, and I wrote the preface when I worked at the East-West Center. It was dedicated to his wife Marian—"whose support has always sustained me," he wrote. This remains an important book on Hawaiian history from the territorial period through the achievement of statehood. Walter Francis Dillingham, 1865–1963, Hawaiian Entrepreneur and Statesman (Edwin Mellen Press, 1996) had appeared earlier and contributed a biographical life study of one of Hawai'i's significant business and political leaders. The Federal Government's Search for Communists in the Territory of Hawaii appeared in 2002, revealing that he keenly understood Hawaiian politics and unionism. A whimsical autobiographical book, Growing Up Along California's North Coast: Boyhood Days in Humboldt County during the 1930s capped his writing in 2004 and reminds one of Thomas A. Bailey's autobiographical work, The American Pageant Revisited: Recollections of a Stanford Historian (1982), as both Melendy and Bailey had described in their respective volumes their fondness for history as a profession and their enjoyment of teaching university students.
Brett and Marian Melendy enjoyed reminiscing about their early days associated with Stanford University, their professional lives in California and Hawai'i, and working for their communities. H. Brett Melendy will be remembered for his excellence in teaching and administration, scholarly books, and generous and wise counsel to his university students and colleagues.
—Barbara Bennett Peterson
University of Hawai'i at Manoa