Brockway McMillan



obit-mcmillan-2flagSEDGWICK – Brockway McMillan died at home in Sedgwick on Dec. 3, 2016. Born at home in Minneapolis, Minn., on March 30, 1915, he was the only child of Franklin Richardson McMillan, a civil engineer, and Luvena Lucille Brockway McMillan, a schoolteacher. After living briefly in Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y., the McMillans returned to Minneapolis for several years, finally settling in Hinsdale, Ill., in 1925. There Brockway graduated from high school and studied for two years at the Armour Institute of Technology, transferring to MIT in 1934. He received his S.B. in 1936 and his Ph.D. in 1939, both in mathematics; his thesis, “The calculus of discrete homogenous chaos,” was supervised by Norbert Weiner.

In the fall of 1939, he moved to Princeton University as a postdoctoral fellow. In June 1942, he was introduced by a mutual friend to a mathematician at the Institute for Advanced Study, Elizabeth Audrey Wishard (Ph.D. Radcliffe, 1938). They married on Sept. 2.

Soon after marriage, Brockway joined the Navy, serving as an ensign at the Naval Proving Grounds in Dahlgren, Va., testing weapons and studying their ballistics. In December 1945, Brockway was reassigned to the Manhattan Project in Los Alamos, N.M., where his daughter Sarah was born. After his discharge from the Navy as a first lieutenant in 1946, Brockway joined the Mathematical Research Group at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, N.J. His son Douglas was born in 1947 in nearby Summit, where the McMillans lived until 1979, except for two assignments in Washington, D.C., with the federal government. Gordon was born in Boston in 1952 while Brockway attended the Lincoln Summer Study Group. In Summit, Brockway served on the Board of Education, eventually becoming board president.

At Bell Labs, Brockway’s research produced papers and theorems on Information Theory and Coding. In later years, he fondly recalled his time at Murray Hill, the intellectual stimulation of like-minded colleagues, their noontime experiments with boomerangs and word games and singing in the Murray Hill chorus. In 1955, he left the research group to become assistant director of systems engineering and, in 1959, director of military research.

During the winter of 1958-59, Brockway served as assistant to James Killian, President Eisenhower’s science advisor. In 1961, President Kennedy appointed Brockway as assistant secretary of the Air Force for research and development. Two years later, he became undersecretary of the Air Force, and concurrently the second director of the NRO (National Reconnaissance Office). As director he advocated maintaining the NRO as the primary U.S. agency in space reconnaissance, and presided over the development of a second generation high-resolution imaging system.

Brockway returned to Bell Labs in 1965, serving as vice president for military systems from 1969 until his retirement. In 1967, the McMillans bought an 1820s farmhouse overlooking the Benjamin River in Sedgwick, and summered there regularly until retiring to Sedgwick in 1979.

In retirement, Brockway continued his research and correspondence with other scientists and mathematicians, consulted for the U.S. government and Eastern Airlines, and stayed active in the American Mathematical Society and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (SIAM). He was a former president of SIAM (1959-60), an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Fellow, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

He and Audrey traveled extensively in the United States and Europe, spending one winter in Berkeley, Calif., to give a series of invited lectures at the University of California. At home in his Sedgwick darkroom, he developed and printed thousands of pictures, which he exhibited locally. He served as president of the Sedgwick Brooklin Historical Society and chairman of the Sedgwick Board of Appeals, and enjoyed meeting with the Lunch Bunch in Blue Hill. The couple joined the Wednesday Painters — she painted while he sketched — and sang for many years with the Bagaduce Chorale. In summer, they sailed to the islands around Eggemoggin Reach, often with children and grandchildren in tow. Brockway was a passionate lover of music, coffee and chocolate.

After Audrey died in 2008, Brockway, with help from his son Gordon, continued to live at his farm, enjoying good health until October, when he was placed under hospice care. He fell just after Thanksgiving, breaking his hip, and died at home one week later. He was 101 years and eight months old. He is survived by his three children, Sarah Taylor, her husband, Robert Taylor, Douglas McMillan, his wife, Molly McMillan, and Gordon McMillan, all of Sedgwick, plus seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The family will announce a time this summer to meet, remember and celebrate his life.