Remembering “Mr. B”William T. “Bill” Broadnax, Jr.
Deemed a singular sensation with boundless enthusiasm by a former colleague, William T. Broadnax, Jr. was born on February 18, 1935 in Phenix City, Alabama. He was the second of three children born to the union of Annie Mae and William T. Broadnax, Sr. On Monday, May 17, 2021, just before midnight, God dispatched his angels to escort our “Bill” to his heavenly home where he would be reunited not only with his ancestors, but, also with his sister, Della Pearl; his eldest niece, Olivia; and his nephew, Cornelius, all of whom transitioned from time to eternity within the past 16 months. A beloved member of the Ossining and Peekskill communities, Bill was 86 years of age.
The Broadnax family crossed the Chattahoochee River separating Phenix City from Columbus, Georgia, when Bill was a young lad. He graduated from William H. Spencer High School in Columbus in 1954 and was voted the best dressed man in his senior class. Bill furthered his education at Knoxville College in Tennessee, earning a Bachelor of Science degree in English and Social Studies in 1958. He also became a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity.
Thereafter, he joined the United States Army, from which he was honorably discharged two years later. Upon his discharge, he resumed educational pursuits at Villanova University, receiving a Master of Science degree in Library Science (MSLS) in 1965. He later attended Drexel Institute (now Drexel University), Columbia University, and Syracuse University for advanced learning. Before moving to Ossining, Bill taught English and Social Studies in Philadelphia Public Schools, where he practiced the philosophy that “teachers who love teaching, teach children to love learning.” He had a passion for bringing out the best in students. He was always available to encourage and tutor when needed.
Growing up in the segregated South, he had access to the school library, but the library in the community was for “whites only.” After civil rights laws were enacted banning segregation during his teenage years, a new smaller public library was built for use by all. Although an eternal optimist, he never forgot the feeling of being “otherized.” Hence, the lifelong professional mission of making the three libraries at which he worked, a welcoming citadel.
His first job as a librarian was at the Deptford Township Public Schools in New Jersey. He remained there from 1965-67. Recruited and lured away by the Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) in New York, he continued to foster a nurturing environment; he was often seen sitting on the floor with younger student readers, creating elaborate bulletin boards, decorating for the holidays, and spearheading elaborate luncheons with table linens and such for graduating students. He made them feel that nothing was too good for them, and that they could accomplish anything that they could conceive. He served as SEIMC Director/Library Media Specialist from 1968-1996, retiring after 28 years of dedicated service.
After moving to Ossining, Bill became employed at the Ossining Public Library as a part-time Resource Librarian, and maintained this position for 52 years, retiring in 2020. He was the longest serving employee in the Westchester Library System; and was admired and respected by all who entered the library. Upon learning of Bill’s passing, Karen Larocca-Fels, Library Director, exclaimed “I consider it a true blessing to have had the opportunity to work with Bill. He was a joyful and welcoming presence in our library and he is missed.” Other colleagues reminisced, “he was the life of the party; the first person on the dance floor and always the best dressed. He was quick with a compliment and supportive advice when we needed it most.”
Indeed, Bill was quite the dancer. In his mid-eighties, he could still “dance, shout and shake his body down to the ground” to Michael Jackson’s melodic, rhythmic exhortations in song. Moreover, he could still get back up on his own with no assistance.
While a connoisseur of the finer things in life, he lived by the philosophy embodied in Forest Witcraft’s ode: “One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I live in, how much money was in my bank account nor what my clothes look like. But the world may be a better place because I was important in the life of a child.”
Bill was active in the Ossining community and served as President of the Ossining Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). Most notably, he conceived and coordinated the “Symphony of Fashions and Luncheon,” the branch’s annual fundraiser, which became a premier event in the community for 24 years, and drew supporters from the tri-state area and beyond. A life member of the NAACP, he was also very active in the Camden, New Jersey branch, where he continued to serve as the Life Membership Chairman before and after moving to Ossining.
Bill served for many years as a Board Member of the Urban League Guild of Westchester. In 2019, he was honored for 50 years of dedicated service as a member of the Cooperative Scholarship Fund of Ossining, an organization that gives monetary awards to African American students pursuing higher education. He also received recognition from the Ossining Sankofa Homecoming Committee, for his involvement in the Ossining community over many years. He truly was dedicated to uplifting those around him, both at work and in the greater community.
In addition to the aforementioned, recently deceased family members, Bill was predeceased by his parents, his youngest sister, Rosa Mae French Cummings, and nephew Thomas Darryl James.
Bill was a treasured member of the family and he leaves to cherish precious memories of a life well-lived, his adoring nieces, Sylvia James and Loretta James-Walker and her husband Samuel Walker; two goddaughters, Alexxiss and Dana; many loving grandnieces and grandnephews, cousins and other relatives, as well as special friends Margaret Guinan, Yvonne Bert, and Joanne and Murray Vale.
It was his wish to be cremated and have his remains strewn about the Hudson River. It shall be done. Thereafter, as you are rolling on the river, remember Bill as a man who lived a life of service with few regrets. Honor him not by grieving interminably, but by picking up the baton, serving God and humanity, especially our children.
A memorial service will be held at Christian Faith Ministries in Garden City, Michigan, on Saturday, June 5, 2021, at 11:00 a.m., followed by a repast at Joy Manor Banquet Hall in Westland. The service will be live-streamed, with his Pastor, Rev. John Clemons of Womack Temple C.M.E. Church officiating. William Thomas Broadnax, Jr. was elegant, well loved, and will truly be missed.