Claude Brenner, former MIT Corporation member, former president of the MIT Alumni Association, and longtime member of the MIT community, died on Saturday, March 7, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He was 86.
Brenner was born in South Africa on July 7, 1928. As a boy in the late summer of 1939 — just 10 days before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland — Brenner and his mother moved to Chicago, where they ended up spending the next nine years.
During this time, Brenner was recruited to become a cast member of the popular radio show “Quiz Kids,” which featured a panel of precocious children answering trivia questions on the air. Known for his eloquence and a strong command of topics in aeronautics, Brenner was such a popular figure that he was asked to substitute for the radio show’s host on four occasions.
His role on “Quiz Kids” eventually helped Brenner secure admission to the Lake Forest Academy boarding school, from where he graduated in 1944 at age 15. He matriculated at MIT that fall and went on to earn an SB degree in 1947 and an MS in 1948, both from the Department of Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering.
Upon completing his MIT education, Brenner returned briefly to South Africa before moving to the U.K. for a job with de Havilland Aircraft Company. But he soon came back to the United States, where he built a career consulting on topics from aircraft design and performance to nuclear warfare and defense electronics to laser systems and renewable energy. Brenner settled in Lexington, Massachusetts, where he lived with his family for 38 years.
Throughout his life, Brenner remained a committed MIT ambassador and community member. He served, for instance, as a member of the MIT Corporation and as president of the MIT Alumni Association. He was president of the Class of 1947 up until his death, and had also served on the Educational Council, the Council for the Arts at MIT (CAMIT) and some 70-plus other MIT boards and committees.
In addition, Brenner remained involved in the activities of his former department; most recently, he helped in the planning of the AeroAstro centennial celebration at MIT this past fall. He was also very active in Jewish matters on campus as the MIT Hillel Board chairman and was a founding member of MIT Hillel Foundation.
For his efforts as a volunteer with the MIT Alumni Association, Brenner received the Bronze Beaver Award, the highest honor bestowed upon alumni volunteers by the Alumni Association. Brenner proudly wore his bronze beaver lapel pin whenever he came to the MIT campus.
A mentor and friend to many, Brenner took pleasure in spending time with his family, volunteering at MIT, solving English cryptics puzzles, patronizing the arts, attending lectures at the Boston Athenaeum, traveling, and cogitating over all things mathematical. He was an ardent New England sports fan, and was particularly passionate about the Red Sox and Patriots.
Brenner was well known for telling stories and jokes; he shared memorable moments of his life in oral histories recorded by the MIT Libraries in 2008 and 2009. He was also a fervent champion of recycling and energy conservation.
Brenner is survived by his companion of 14 years, Anne Lowell; son Paul T. Brenner; daughter Harriet P. Severino; grandchildren Taylor, Eric, Brock, and Alisand; and the children of his late sister Sheila Lang, David and Roberta.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Lake Forest Academy Fund-Claude Brenner Memorial, 1500 West Kennedy Road Lake Forest, Illinois 60045 or to MIT for the Claude W. Brenner Scholarship Fund or MIT Hillel, c/o Bonny Kellermann, 600 Memorial Drive, Room W98-500, Cambridge, MA 02139.