Lois and Brown Pulliam have been selected as Bedford Citizens of the Year for 2021, the first dual recipients in the 42-year annals of the award.
The Pulliams, who settled in Bedford in January 1960 and now reside at Carleton Willard Village, will be guests of honor during the Bedford Day parade on Saturday morning, Sept. 18.
Another traditional venue for recognition, the Bedford Minutemen change of command ceremony, planned for Sept. 24, will be deferred because of the threat of the Covid-19 virus.
The Pulliams brought up six children at 26 Concord Road, and have been actively involved in the spectrum of community life for two generations—political, social, spiritual. They never hesitated to take sides – and never lost their profound affection for the town.
“I’ve read a lot of Bedford history,” Brown Pulliam mused. “But I’ve never found the historical events-if there were any that led to what made Bedford such a welcoming and friendly town. People who come here from other places are struck by that. Post Office employees, the library, businesspeople — they’re very welcoming to everybody. We sort of take that for granted.”
The Pulliams met in 1954 in Boston, arranged through Lois’s roommate. Lois was working at Simmons College and Brown was in Navy officer school in Newport, RI. Turns out they were both from Kentucky, though Brown spent most of his childhood in and around Schenectady.
Lois, 93, grew up in Irvine in central Kentucky; her parents were educators. She earned a degree in library science from the University of Kentucky, then attended Syracuse University on a fellowship and earned a master’s degree in higher education, specializing in counseling and guidance. She was an assistant dean of women there. “Syracuse was fabulous – there were students there from all over the world,” Lois marveled, noting that when she was a teenager in Irvine, “Black students were not in Kentucky schools.”
Brown majored in physics at Union College, a commuter student. “I knew I wanted to do electronics,” he said, recounting summers filling in for radio operators at General Electric.
His first position after graduation was with the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in Silver Spring, MD. It was 1951. “The government was looking for engineers and physicists. Most of my classmates were going for advanced degrees. I just wanted to get into a lab and start doing electronics.” (Those instincts resurfaced as a volunteer in the fix-it shop at the Council on Aging for a decade starting in 2010.)
As his draft deferment neared expiration in 1954, Brown entered officer candidate school and ultimately was commissioned an ensign in the Naval Reserve. The Pulliams were married on Dec. 27, 1955.
The Pulliams lived in Maryland and Connecticut before they moved to Bedford, a few miles from Brown’s workplace in West Concord, and were thrilled that the house was close to everything. Once landing here, Lois said, “We didn’t aspire to go anywhere else.”
The recognition is especially appropriate because although each recipient has an impressive individual resume, the Pulliams have done so much together.
Their first Bedford town meeting was less than two months after they arrived; they sat on the stage with other non-voters. They have attended more than 90 percent of all town meetings since (indeed, Brown rode his bicycle to last May’s annual meeting on Sabourin Field.) Open town meeting was “a big thing for us,” Brown said. Lois explained that they were accustomed to a mayor-council structure, even in a small town.
They also joined the First Parish Church soon after their arrival, where they continue to be active.
The Pulliams were founding members of the Friends of the Bedford Free Public Library (Lois served as a member of its first board). She remembers “coming to town and finding other people excited about the library. Now we have one of the best libraries anywhere.”
They both served on the Bedford Democratic Town Committee (now life members) and Democratic State Conventions. (In an interview a few months ago, Pulliam commented, “I always have had good friends who are Republicans.”)
They were co-chairs of the Center School Parent Teachers Organization in the mid-1960s, and members of the Bedford Historical Society for over 50 years (Brown served as president, vice president, and a member of the board).
The Pulliams also were co-founders of the Central Middlesex National Alliance for the Mentally Ill. Lois became the first branch president and served on the state NAMI board. She was certified by NAMI to teach a 12-session course for family members of mentally ill persons and offered the program for some nine years in Bedford. She also was a trustee on the board of the former Metropolitan State Hospital in the early ’90s.
Lois is a national celebrity in the League of Women Voters. Her affiliation began in 1947 as a junior at the University of Kentucky and culminated (so far) in December when she was honored as one of 36 “formidable women” who have made significant contributions to the League at national, state, and/or local levels. She joined the Bedford LWV chapter in 1960 and is now a life member.
In the early 1960s, Lois also was a founder and first president of the Bedford-Lexington Branch of the American Association of University Women. She also helped establish the Women’s Center at Middlesex Community College and chaired its speakers’ bureau. She taught continuing education courses at Middlesex relating to communication skills.
Lois worked in the Boston office of U.S. Sen. Paul Tsongas from 1979-1984 as staff coordinator for women’s issues. There was a strong Bedford presence on the senator’s Massachusetts staff in those days; along with Lois, Shirley Simons and Theresa Theobald held key staff roles.
Brown, 91, is the only Pulliam who was elected to town office, serving on the School Committee from 1969 to 1972 and as a library trustee from 1972 to 1975.
His resume as an appointed official spans many years and includes the Zoning Board of Appeals, the Sidewalk Study Committee, and the Cable TV Committee.
Brown also was a board member of Eliot Mental Health Clinic in West Concord, beginning in 1986. The agency is now Eliot Community Human Services, still providing mental health services for Bedford through its contract with Bedford Youth and Family Services.
The Pulliams have 11 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.