Dr. Lyman Beecher Brooks was born on May 27, 1910 to John Robert and Mary Anna Burrell Brooks in the Blakes Community of Mathews County, Virginia. John Robert, the son of an ex-slave and Union Navy veteran, made a living as a farmer, waterman, and private music teacher. Mary Anna Burrell Brooks was a school teacher and graduate of Hartshorn Memorial College (now Virginia Union University). She named her son after Lyman Beecher Tefft, the president of her alma mater.
Lyman along with his brother, John Murray Brooks, enrolled at Virginia Union University and compiled a distinguished academic record. After serving as a teacher and principal for a few years, he enrolled in the graduate program at the University of Michigan where he received M.A. and Ph.D. degrees.
In 1938, he became Director of the Norfolk Unit of Virginia Union University (now Norfolk State University). During his thirty-seven year illustrious career as the chief administrative officer of the College (1938-1975), he built the school from a three-classroom junior college with five teachers to an eighteen building campus with a faculty and staff of 375 and 6,300 students.
Under the able leadership of Dr. Brooks, the institution achieved numerous milestones. In 1942, the College became Norfolk Polytechnic College. Another name change came in 1944 when the Virginia General Assembly voted to make the school's name the Norfolk Division of Virginia State College, mandating it to become a part of Virginia State College.
In September 1955, the school was relocated to a 55-acre campus on Corprew Avenue. The first degree (Bachelor's degree) was presented by the institution in 1958. The College was separated from Virginia State College in 1969. Therefore, Norfolk State College became an independent, four-year degree-granting institution with its own Board of Visitors and its own President.
In the 1960's, Dr. Brooks and a team of researchers conducted a pioneering manpower training program which was widely praised by the Secretary of Labor.
Dr. Brooks had an unwavering faith in students' abilities to uplift themselves through education. He often expressed the belief that "there are extraordinary power in ordinary people". Many students, who received second chances at Norfolk State, became very successful in their chosen fields.
Throughout his educational career, Dr. Brooks was actively involved in numerous community activities. Foremost among them were his approximately thirty years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Norfolk Community Hospital. He also had many years of service as a trustee and Sunday School teacher at Bank Street Memorial Baptist Church and he was a member of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity.
In his book, Upward: A History of Norfolk State University (1983), he detailed the epic saga of Norfolk State's rapid rise to prominence.
In 1972, the construction of a new library was completed. This three-story structure was named the Lyman Beecher Brook Library in honor of Dr. Brooks.
Dr. Brooks retired from Norfolk State College on June 30, 1975 with 37 years of dedicated service to the College. He is listed as both Professor Emeriti and President Emeritus. When he passed on April 20, 1984, he was survived by his wife, Mrs. Evelyn Fields Brooks and daughters, Norma Ann and Marechal-Neil.
Source: Dr. Tommy L. Bogger, Former Director of Harrison B. Wilson Archives, remembers Dr. Lyman Beecher Brooks