Bruce Rossley (March 2, 1946-May 1, 2015)
By Fredric Dannen
The phrase “banned in Boston” entered the lingo in the late 19th century and survived well into the 20th, as city officials routinely censored anything and everything that struck them as morally objectionable—from plays by Eugene O’Neill, to novels by William Faulkner and Sinclair Lewis, to the Everly Brothers’ song “Wake Up Little Susie.” In 1990, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston was preparing to exhibit photographs by Robert Mapplethorpe, whose controversial work had been condemned by many as obscene. Boston Mayor Raymond Flynn was being pressured by private interest groups and members of the Boston city council to maintain a long and ignoble tradition and ban the photographs from public display. But Flynn’s commissioner of cultural affairs, Bruce Rossley, stood firm on the Mapplethorpe exhibit, and it took place as scheduled.
A decade later, Bruce had settled in San Miguel, and he lived here until his untimely death in the early morning hours of May 1 of this year, from respiratory failure and other complications. I met Bruce soon after his arrival in San Miguel, and I maintained a friendship with him that endured from that day forward. I wanted Bruce for a friend. He had intelligence, compassion, and vitality. He spoke in a rapid-fire palaver, with a distinct Boston accent, punctuated by a throaty laugh hoarse from a lifelong smoking habit that undoubtedly hastened his demise. Most appealingly, he had principles. Bruce had devoted his life to public service. He believed in the inspiriting power of culture and education, and he believed that people’s lives could be improved by good government. He was the only foreigner on the board of the San Miguel delegation of the Cruz Roja Mexicana, and from 2004 until this past January, he was chairman of the city’s largest membership organization, Democrats Abroad.
A few years ago, at my urging, Bruce was hired as executive director of a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving educational opportunities for Mexican children in non-urban areas of Guanajuato. Under Bruce’s leadership, the organization, renamed the Rural Education Institute of Mexico, expanded in size and influence and attained 501(c)(3) tax-deductible status. There were few issues more important to Bruce than education. On the day he died, I spoke to his niece Margaret McDonald. “Bruce taught me things I didn’t learn anywhere else,” she said. “He gave me exposure to education and the arts, and I in turn was able to pass that on to my daughter.” (The daughter, Penelope, is today a professor at the University of Massachusetts School of Law.) “Bruce was my hero and my role model,” she added. “He was the strongest male image in my life.”