Photo of memorial service at Hendricks Chapel

'A shepherd more than a CEO': Syracuse University community honors late dean Lorraine Branham

By Wendy S. Loughlin

May 9, 2019

A memorial service was held May 9 at Hendricks Chapel

The Syracuse University community celebrated the life and legacy of late Newhouse Dean Lorraine Branham at a memorial service May 9 at Hendricks Chapel.

The Rev. Brian E. Konkol, dean of Hendricks Chapel, opened the ceremony with a prayer in Branham’s honor, calling her “educator, innovator, dedicated truth-teller.”

Diane Lyden Murphy, dean of the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, read Mary’s Magnificat, from the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. Tula Goenka, Newhouse professor of television, radio and film, read the passage “Stay,” from the book “Circle of Grace” by Jan Richardson.

Offering remarks were Syracuse University Chancellor Kent Syverud; Donald Newhouse ’51, honorary trustee and president of Advance Publications; Taylor Epps, a senior in the Newhouse School; Amy Falkner, interim dean of the Newhouse School; and Branham’s husband, Melvin Williams.  

Syverud remembered Branham as “a giant leader who transformed our school,” and called her “a shepherd more than a CEO.”

“And what a magnificent and unique kind of shepherd she was,” Syverud said. “She treated every one of her flock—her students, her faculty, her staff—like unique, decent human beings, each one of whom had the capacity to grow and improve and work wonders if given a chance.”

Syverud also recounted what he called “an amazing set of miracles her shepherding accomplished.” 

“She led the school into new media and professions while holding true to its roots in journalism. She built amazing new programs, including in New York and LA, as well as in innovation in sports, in digital media, in entrepreneurship.  She fostered the careers of so many students and faculty, including so many women and so many people of color. She created new state-of-the-art facilities and studios and labs.”

Donald Newhouse quoted from a letter Branham wrote to him three days before she died: “It has been the highlight of my professional and to some extent my personal life to lead and serve the Newhouse School.” 

He called her “an indomitable fighter,” and said, “She will forever remain with us in memory as a warrior, as a leader, as an innovator, as an advocate, as the person who set out and succeeded in keeping this great school number one in the world of schools of public communications.”

Epps recalled her first few days on campus, when she felt out of place as a black female.

“I had already convinced myself I didn't belong there,” she said. “Dean Branham was there to prove me wrong. She represented all that I wanted to be. She embodied black excellence and, what’s more, excellence in journalism. Seeing her in such a powerful position and hearing it was possible was all I needed. From then on, I went on with one goal in mind: to become a student Dean Branham could be proud of.” 

Falkner, who served as the school’s senior associate dean for academic affairs during Branham’s tenure, said the late dean “was, and will remain, an inspiration to us all.”

“The whole school knows and repeats the number one strategic goal—I hear it in the hallways almost every day: Preeminence,” Falkner said. “Her presence will endure at Newhouse as we carry through on that theme.”

Williams spoke about Branham’s legacy.

“What she would have us to do? The answer: Be bold, be kind, speak truth to power—but do so with a smile and humor. Champion the value of diversity. Fight for the underdog, those often overlooked, particularly women and people of color. Don't sit back and let somebody else stand up; stand up yourself for what is right.”

Addressing the audience, Williams said, “Working together with you for the betterment of the school and the betterment of the profession was among the greatest honors of her life.”

Konkol closed the ceremony by leading the audience in the traditional spiritual practice of the laying of hands.

Branham died of cancer April 2. She had served as dean of the Newhouse School since 2008.