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Andrew Landon Bryson, a retired workplace safety expert and longtime San Diego resident, died Jan. 14
in San Diego. He was 87.
Bryson was a lifelong learner with interests that included music, history and languages as well as his
professional expertise in such areas as mustard gas and asbestos. In his ninth decade he could recite
snatches of the Shakespearean soliloquies he had memorized and recited as a child. He was the
grandson of an African Methodist Episcopal minister, and knew his Bible. Mormon missionaries and
Jehovah’s Witnesses who rang his doorbell often found themselves ensnared in theological discussions.
He was also a lifelong teacher. Perhaps he was at home in the classroom because when he was a
toddler, his mother, a teacher and librarian, took him along to her one-room school.
Bryson, who died of complications from prostate cancer, was born Sep. 14, 1936 in Commerce, Georgia.
He was nine years old when his father Mim died. Bryson started his working life early to help his mother
Julia (Downs) and his brother John Wesley. His jobs included working as a delivery boy for a Commerce
pharmacy, starting when he was too little to sit on the bike seat, so rode without sitting and at an
awkward angle, one leg thrust under the crossbar to allow him to reach both pedals. Education
remained a priority.
At school in Commerce he studied history from books handed down by white students who had ripped
out the pages on Reconstruction. His mother ensured he learned about the political strides former
slaves were able to make in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, advances that white supremacists
fought with violence and Jim Crow.
Bryson was proud of having two high school diplomas, one earned in 1952 from the public Johntown
High School in Commerce, which served Black students and ended at 11th grade. The public high school
for white students in Commerce went to 12th grade, preparing them for college, to which Black students
were not encouraged to aspire. Bryson earned his second diploma after completing 12th grade at the
boarding high school at what is now Voorhees University in South Carolina, which served Black
Americans whose educational choices in their hometowns were limited by white racists.
Bryson earned a bachelor’s degree in 1957 from what is now West Virginia State University, like
Voorhees a historically Black institution, where he majored in zoology and minored in math and French.
As a young Black man in the South, Bryson struggled to find work that would pay enough to cover school
fees. He went north during his holidays.
“It was interesting coming from Georgia to New York City,” he said during a family oral history interview.
“You think once you cross that Mason-Dixon Line everybody would welcome you with open arms, giving
you a job if you showed you were qualified. It didn’t work out like that.”
He found what jobs he could, including handling baggage at Penn Station.
After graduating from college, his work included substituting for his mother in Commerce schools. He
joined the Army in 1958. Basic training was at Fort Dix in New Jersey, from where he went to Commerce
to say goodbye to his mother before taking a bus to Texas for his initial assignment to a Fort Sam
Houston medical unit. In Texas, his performance on aptitude tests qualified him for a special assignment
and he was transferred to the Dewitt Army Hospital at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
He remembered his welcome in Virginia vividly. A dance had been arranged. A bus ferried troops to the
venue, where Black soldiers were dropped at one end and white soldiers at the other.
“I was standing there thinking, ‘We’re supposed to be one country. They’re ready to ship us off where
people will be shooting at us. Yet, here we are, separated,’’’ Bryson remembered. “It was kind of
Still, while civilian employers had seemed to have seen only his race, the Army took note of Bryson’s
qualifications. The first six months in Virginia he worked as an operating room technician, prepping
patients for surgery and later transferring them to recovery and ensuring facilities were sterile. When
administrators realized they had a shortage of people familiar with chemistry, Bryson was transferred to
“I got a chance to use a lot of the stuff I had learned in college,” he said. “I got a chance to work with a
Harvard-educated pathologist who took the time to teach me about cells and cancer. It was so
fascinating and exciting. It was a great learning time in my life.”
When an earthquake struck Chile in 1960, Bryson was part of an emergency response team sent to set
up a field hospital. He also went to Europe on assignment to a US military hospital in Germany.
He said his military service “made you aware of other people doing something for their country all
together. We realized we were all Americans.”
Another lesson he drew from his Army years: “I learned a lot about what Black Americans did to become
part of this country by serving it.”
His active duty service ended in 1961. For a brief time, he worked at a civilian hospital and with a civilian
military contractor in Georgia, where he met and married Betty Mashburn, a nurse. Then he returned to
service, this time as a civilian. As a Department of Defense munitions expert Bryson helped oversee the
safety and security of America’s chemical weapons stockpiles and later, as an industrial hygienist, he
ensured the health of military and civilian workers at installations across southern California and in the
Pacific. His civil service career included stints at Elgin Air Force Base in Florida and the Pueblo Army
Depot in Colorado. He came to San Diego in 1975 and retired in 2002 as a safety and health manager at
the San Diego-based Southwest Division Naval Facilities Command.
He and a friend founded Environmental Systems, Inc., an industrial hygiene consulting firm, in 1983.
Bryson continued consulting into his 80s.
Throughout, he was a mentor to colleagues and friends, urging them to pursue graduate studies and
then offering advice on their theses; helping them study for board exams; loaning them books from his
extensive scientific and technical library. And he always seemed to be thinking of ways to be a better
teacher. He would, for example, carry a camera with him everywhere, looking to capture examples of
poor safety on the job, such as roofers who were not properly secured or maintenance workers using
chairs in place of ladders. He included his photos in how-not-to slide shows.
He taught industrial hygiene courses at San Diego State University, the University of California San Diego
and National University. He published papers in his field and made presentations to safety and health
groups and high school classes. He was active in professional organizations such as the American
Industrial Hygiene Association, an organization of scientists and professionals who ensure occupational
and environmental health and safety at work and in the community. He had been an AIHA member
since 1975 and served on its Indoor Environmental Quality Committee. He co-founded the San Diego
section of AIHA. He also served on boards and commissions, including the Environmental Task Force
Committee of the American Lung Association.
Bryson was an avid reader and quick to recommend books and to note that they could be borrowed
from libraries, places he saw as cathedrals of learning open to all. He loved guiding young people and he
adored children and babies. He could be childlike himself.
The first home he bought for his family in San Diego had an intercom system for greeting visitors who
rang the doorbell, decades before Amazon introduced Ring. On Halloween, Bryson delighted in regaling
trick or treaters with spooky, disembodied howls and cackles via the intercom.
This playful man could also be prickly and pessimistic; wary of appearing naïve in a world he knew could
be cruel. But he saw hope in children and evidence of progress and its possibility in opportunities they
had that he had been denied when he was young. He strongly urged people to take advantage of those
Bryson followed his own advice. Certificates and diplomas from continuing education programs
wallpaper his home office. He was 21 when he graduated from West Virginia State and started studying
chemistry in graduate school at Atlanta University, but spent only a year there. He was 47 when he
earned a master’s degree in environmental/occupational toxicology from the University of San
Francisco. He persuaded a younger friend to pursue the master’s alongside him. The two did much of
the course work remotely. When they had to go to campus from San Diego, they would hop military
aircraft that sometimes took circuitous routes, and stay at officers’ quarters in the San Francisco area.
Bryson exemplified the values of his fraternity, Alpha Phi Alpha: to prepare members “for the greatest
usefulness in the causes of humanity, freedom, and dignity of the individual; to encourage the highest
and noblest form of manhood; to aid downtrodden humanity in its efforts to achieve higher social,
economic and intellectual status.”
His memorial is scheduled Saturday, Feb. 3 at 4 p.m. in the community room of the Serra Mesa-Kearny
Mesa branch of the San Diego Public Library, 9005 Aero Drive, San Diego. He will receive military honors
on Monday, Feb. 5 at 9:30 a.m. at Miramar National Cemetery, 5795 Nobel Drive, San Diego, in the
northwest corner of the Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
Bryson was preceded in death by Betty, his wife of 53 years. The couple had two children, Crystal and
Donna (Fredrick Glick). Andrew and Betty live on in the hearts of their grandchildren, Kiefer Gatlin of San
Diego and Thandi Glick of Denver; siblings Delores Mathews (Raymond Mathews Sr.) of Tampa, Fla. and
Richard Mashburn (Dorothy) of Tallahassee, Fla.; many cousins, nieces, nephews, great-nieces, great-
nephews and other relatives and friends.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Bryson’s name to library systems, including San
Diego’s (https://www.sdcl.org/faq/donating-materials/#monetary-donations); Voorhees
(https://voorhees.edu/give-to-voorhees/) and West Virginia State