Samuel Palmer Brooks: The Baylor legend behind the Immortal Message
Nearly 100 years after his death, Samuel Palmer Brooks remains well-known at Baylor for two reasons: 1) The residence halls that have carried his name (Brooks Hall/Brooks Residential College and Brooks Flats), and 2) His “Immortal Message,” a stirring Commencement address written shortly before his death in 1931.
Countless Baylor students have lived in the halls that carry his name, and virtually every Baylor student has at some point heard the Immortal Message, as his posthumous charge to care for Baylor has resonated for nearly nine decades:
“Because of what Baylor has meant to you in the past, because of what she will mean to you in the future, oh, my students, have a care for her. Build upon the foundations here the great school of which I have dreamed, so that she may touch and mold the lives of future generations and help to fit them for life here and hereafter. To you seniors of the past, of the present, of the future I entrust the care of Baylor University. To you I hand the torch. My love be unto you and my blessing be upon you.”
A deeper dive into the character of Brooks as Baylor president makes it clear that, to those who knew him as Baylor’s seventh president, those words rang true from their very first reading — because Brooks modeled them in his own life long before setting pen to paper.
Samuel Palmer Brooks was born Dec. 4, 1863, the son of a preacher who moved the family to Texas from his native Georgia when Samuel was five years old. His relationship with Baylor began in 1887, when he entered Baylor’s preparatory academy; he later received his degree from Baylor just before his 30th birthday.
In 1902 — just 15 years later, at the age of 38 — Brooks returned to his alma mater as president. At that time, Baylor had fewer than 300 students; no mascot; no schools of business, nursing, music, education, arts or sciences; no seminary, college of dentistry or college of medicine.
During his 29 years as president — the longest tenure in Baylor history — each of those schools or departments would come to fruition. It was also during his time that Baylor adopted the bear mascot, held the nation’s first Homecoming, and saw enrollment grow to over 3,500.
Brooks’ love for Baylor was also epitomized by the fundraising tour that left Baylor debt-free; he undertook the trip that underwrote much of the university’s growth, with its extensive travel schedule, while battling cancer. As the Spring of 1931 rolled around, Brooks realized his time was short; he was moved to learn that graduating seniors hoped he would sign their diplomas for Commencement, and he worked hard to do so even as the disease took its toll.
As Commencement approached, recognizing that he might not be able to deliver the address, Brooks composed a final charge to not only the class of 1931, but to “seniors of all years.” In what has become known as the “Immortal Message,” delivered just days after his death on May 14, 1931, Brooks’ gave a charge that inspires the Baylor Family to this day.
Sic ’em, Samuel Palmer Brooks!