James L. Bradley

James L. Bradley was a beloved English teacher who taught at Owings Mills High School for almost 30 years.
James L. Bradley was a beloved English teacher who taught at Owings Mills High School for almost 30 years.(Baltimore Sun)

James L. Bradley, an influential and beloved English teacher who taught at Owings Mills High School for more than 30 years, died Saturday at Carroll Hospital Center of complications from Lyme disease.

The Gamber resident was 67.


"Mr. Bradley was everyone's favorite teacher, but on the face of it, he was very strict, his classes were hard and challenging, and he could be quite persnickety," recalled Allison Silverbaltt Colker, who lives in Rockville and graduated in 1994 from Owings Mills High School.

"He held us to high standards, and we loved it. We rose to the occasion," said Ms. Colker, who was in his gifted-and-talented English class and is soon to become a principal of a religious school. "You felt he believed in and supported you, and you wanted to work hard."

He was the most influential teacher I ever had," said Lauren Hillman of Fairfax, Va. "He was a father figure. A guide. A counselor."

The son of Clarence Lee Bradley, a Baltimore County Police Department captain who commanded the Wilkens Precinct, and Ruth Eleanor Chambers Bradley, a homemaker, James Lee Bradley was born in Baltimore and raised in Relay.

He was in Lansdowne High School's first graduating class in 1965 and was a member of the wrestling team. In 1968, he earned an associate's degree from what was then Catonsville Community College.

"Jim hadn't planned to be a teacher. He wanted to be a forest ranger," said his wife of 46 years, the former Linda Lorraine Somerblock, who is retired from a career working in information technology with EMA, now Integrace.

"But at that time, full-tuition scholarships were offered to college students who agreed to commit to teaching in public schools for two years," she said.

Mr. Bradley earned a bachelor's degree in 1971 in English from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a master's degree in education in 1975 from the Johns Hopkins University.


He began his teaching career in 1969 at Kenwood High School and transferred to Lansdowne High School.

He joined the faculty at Owings Mills High School when it opened in 1978 and continued teaching English at all levels from basic to Advanced Placement for grades nine through 12.

A large, burly man with a deep voice and a finely trimmed mustache who never wore a necktie, Mr. Bradley's popularity at Owings Mills was legend, and were his classes were memorable.

He stressed and believed in the value of writing and put his students to the task of producing a variety of compositions, ranging from single paragraphs to research papers. Evenings at home were spent carefully poring over them.

"If he expected the students to write it, he believed they should expect him to read and correct it," his wife said. "He was infamous for requiring his more advanced classes to write without using the verb 'to be' in any form."

"Mr. Bradley hated the verb 'to be.' Use that in a paper or a story, and right away he got out his green pen. He put the fear of God in us over that," said Heather Wasserman Rudo, who is a health insurance specialist with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


"I have a good editor friend on the West Coast who was one of his students, and she says she always hears Mr. Bradley's voice when it comes to 'to be' that 'you will not write in a passive voice,'" said Ms. Rudo, who lives in Reisterstown.

Ms. Rudo, Ms. Colker and Ms. Hillman, who were in his gifted-and-talented class, graduated in 1994.

Mr. Bradley always called his students by their last names.

"We were in 11th grade and he had me and six other ladies in the gifted-and-talented class. That was it. He told us he knew a little about each of us and would treat us as if we were his own daughter," said Ms. Rudo. "It was an amazing class. He was the type of teacher who expected a lot from you, and you wanted to do right by him, and we always felt we had a bond with him."

Last July, Ms. Rudo and other classmates met Mr. Bradley at the Mount Washington Tavern to have lunch.

"He asked me, 'Can I give you a hug? And please call me Jim,'" recalled Ms. Rudo. "We all reconnected on Facebook, and he had such a great effect on everyone. He was an inspiration."

"No matter how many times he asked me to call him 'Jim,' I just couldn't do it," said Ms. Hillman.

She said that Mr. Bradley "believed in us when we didn't believe in ourselves. He had confidence in our abilities, and I wouldn't be in desktop publishing were it not for him. He gave me my career."

"I decided to push back on a proposed project, and I was being something of a brat, when Mr. Bradley said, 'You can do it,'" said Ms. Colker.

"I had some troubles in high school and some of my teachers were writing me off, but not Mr. Bradley. Despite my arrogance, he believed in me. He saw that I was smart and could compete in his class," she said.

One of his requirements for his Advanced Placement students was that they submit something for publication. It did not have to be accepted but students had to submit proof that they had submitted a piece for publication.

"Although most thought this was preposterous, many students actually had poetry or articles published," his wife said.

While Mr. Bradley had no formal training in journalism, he became active with the school newspaper, and "immersed himself in the subject, teaching himself journalistic techniques in depth," his wife said. "When desktop computers and desktop publishing became available, he incorporated that into his curriculum."

Mrs. Bradley said the journalism classes eventually developed into a serious and highly competitive activity, with the newspaper becoming a biweekly that was self-supporting financially and won numerous wards.

Mr. Bradley helped write the journalism curriculum for Baltimore County and mentored other high schools that wished to duplicate Owings Mills' success when establishing student newspapers.

He retired in 2005.

Mr. Bradley was interested in history and especially the Civil War, and he accumulated a large library devoted to the subject. He was active with the Carroll County Historic Preservation Commission and volunteered with the Carroll County 4-H Program.

His hobbies included photography, music, woodworking, fishing, fly-tying, and hiking. An accomplished musician, he played guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica.

Funeral services will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Calvary United Methodist Church, 3939 Gamber Road, Finksburg.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Bradley is survived by two daughters, Rachale Bradley Montgomery of Paeonian Springs, Va., and Rebecca Bradley Walter of Mount Airy; a sister, Linda Bradley Miller of Bloxom, Va.; and two grandchildren.