John Lott Brown

In Memoriam: John Lott Brown

January 16, 2011

In Memoriam: John Lott Brown, 1924-2011

John Lott BrownJohn Lott Brown, an OSA Fellow Emeritus who served as The University of South Florida's third president and the one credited with setting it on a path to research prominence, died 16 January 2011 in Ohio. He was 86.

A native of Philadelphia, Brown enrolled at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, MA, in 1942 through the U.S. Navy's wartime V-12 program. He graduated with a BS in electrical engineering near the end of World War II and completed a year of active Navy duty. He earned a master's in psychology at Temple University and worked briefly for the Link Belt Co. before deciding to return to school. In 1952, Brown earned a PhD in psychology at Columbia University, where he took over a research program in human factors engineering sponsored by the U.S. Air Force.

In 1954, Brown was named head of the psychology division in the Aviation Medical Acceleration Laboratory at the Naval Air Development Center, where he helped train astronauts in NASA's Mercury program to perform under conditions of high acceleration. He served simultaneously as assistant professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Five years later, he joined the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School full time, and in 1962 he was named director of the graduate training program in psychology. Brown's research focused on the psychology of the visual system and the senses. He wrote seven chapters on those subjects in a major textbook on psychology.

Brown moved in 1964 to the University Kansas, where he won appointment as provost. In 1969 he accepted a post as a research professor in the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester. He would go on to head the center before being tapped in 1978 to serve as the third president of the University of South Florida (USF), which had been founded just 22 years earlier.

During his decade as USF president, Brown oversaw the transformation of the school from a small liberal arts institution to a major research university. The university's annual research funding grew from $14.7 to $23 million, its budget doubled, and its enrollment rose from 23,000 to over 30,000, eclipsing that of Florida State, which had been the second largest public university in Florida. Brown was a champion of professional programs at the university, creating a medical school, an engineering college, and the Moffitt Cancer Center. During his tenure the university also introduced 38 new degree programs, significantly expanded its library holdings, and opened two branch campuses. The satellite campuses today include a Sarasota campus, USF Polytechnic in Lakeland and a fully accredited independent University of South Florida St. Petersburg.

After stepping down as president, Brown accepted joint appointments at USF in engineering and medicine, with an additional appointment as professor of industrial engineering. He later served as director of the Human Factors Division of the university's Center for Urban Transportation Research before retiring in 1992. He emerged from retirement the following year to serve as interim director of UCF's Center for Microelectronics Research.

From 1994-95, Brown served as interim president for his alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic Institute, while the school searched for a permanent leader.

Brown was named a WPI trustee in 1971 and an emeritus trustee in 1983. He received the WPI Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Professional Achievement in 1969, an honorary doctorate in science in 1984, the William R. Grogan Award for outstanding contributions in support of the mission of the university in 1996, and the Herbert F. Taylor Alumni Award for Distinguished Service in 2006. During his year as interim president, he was tapped for Skull, the senior honorary society.

An OSA member since 1952, Brown was elected as a Fellow in 1967.

Brown is survived by his wife, Catherine, four children, and six grandchildren.

If you would like to make a memorial donation to the OSA Foundation in honor of John Lott Brown, please visit