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Honoring Two Friends

The Swarthmore community lost two beloved and influential faculty members this fall, Frederic L. Pryor and Thompson Bradley.

Frederic Pryor, a professor emeritus of economics known for the broad scope of his interests, the vitality of his scholarship, and his keen wit, died Sept. 2 in Newtown Square, Pa. He was 86.

Reared in Mansfield, Ohio, with his twin brother, Millard, Fred (above, left) received a B.A. in chemistry from Oberlin College in 1955. After spending a year living and working in South America and Europe—including a three-month stint on a commune—he enrolled at Yale University to pursue a Ph.D. in economics.

Focusing his doctoral thesis on communist foreign trade, Fred moved to West Berlin. After finishing his dissertation in 1961, he drove to East Berlin to deliver a copy to a professor. By then the Berlin Wall was under construction, and Fred was arrested by the Stasi (the East German secret police) on suspicion of espionage. After nearly six months in an East German prison, Fred was released as part of a prisoner exchange. The experience was later dramatized in the Steven Spielberg film Bridge of Spies.

Fred had hoped that, after earning his Ph.D., he could work for the U.S. government. But those jobs, along with those in the private sector, were closed to him because of his espionage arrest.

“The only places that didn’t pay mind to my prison experience were colleges and universities,” he said. “Swarthmore didn’t care. In fact, I think the students kind of got a kick out of having an ex-con teaching them.”

Fred joined the Swarthmore faculty in 1967 and attained the rank of full professor. After retiring in 1998, he maintained a campus office for many years, noting in 2015 that it “keeps me happy.”

Fred loved to experience new cultures, and he often combined service and vacation. For many years he served as a trustee at historically Black institutions including Miles College, Wilberforce University, and Tougaloo College. He also worked as a research director for the Pennsylvania Tax Commission and twice served as judge of elections.

Fred’s wife of 44 years, fellow economist Zora Prochazka Pryor, died in 2008. He is survived by a son, Daniel Pryor, and three grandchildren, Kathleen, Thomas, and Zora.


Thompson Bradley, a professor emeritus of Russian admired for his devotion to justice in all of his pursuits, died Sept. 22 in Rose Valley, Pa. He was 85.

Tom (above, right) was born in New Haven, Conn. In high school, he was introduced to Russian, an encounter that ignited his love of the language and its literature. This passion took on literary and historical dimension at Yale University, where Tom earned a B.A. in Russian, and later at Columbia University, where he pursued graduate work in Slavic languages and literatures.

In 1956, Tom married Anne Cushman Noble, graduated from Yale, and was drafted into the U.S. Army. He served for two years at an American base in Germany, where he had been recruited for military intelligence for his language skills. After completing his service, Tom resumed his academic career at Columbia and then spent a year in Moscow as part of a cultural exchange.

Tom joined Swarthmore’s faculty in 1962, finding students whom he described as having a “real commitment” to living the intellectual life. His Russian novel class became legendary, invariably drawing the most students of any Modern Languages & Literatures course at the time.

Throughout his career, Tom never separated his teaching from his social and political activism. He spoke of this when he retired in 2001: “I think there are fewer and fewer people in academia today who think of their lives as having to do with a practice outside of academia. I can’t imagine only doing activism, or only teaching. To me they seem as indivisible as literature and history.”

His political activity included mobilizing the College against the Vietnam War, mentoring conscientious objectors, and participating in Veterans for Peace. He was also instrumental in organizing College events for the first Martin Luther King Jr. Day, developing a faculty exchange program with a university in El Salvador, and creating the Chester-Swarthmore College Community Coalition, among other initiatives.

Tom is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Anne; their three daughters; and two grandchildren.