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Presbyterian Barbara Everitt Bryant, the first woman to lead the U.S. Bureau of the Census, dies at age 96


The ‘trailblazer and a champion of quality survey methods’ raised three children, including the former executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency

April 16, 2023

Barbara Everitt Bryant

Barbara Everitt Bryant, a Presbyterian and the first woman to lead the U.S. Bureau of the Census, died March 2 in Ann Arbor, Michigan, at the age of 96. Among her three children is Linda Bryant Valentine, the former executive director of the Presbyterian Mission Agency.

According to her obituary, Bryant directed the Census Bureau from 1989 to 1993. “Dr. Bryant was a trailblazer and a champion of quality survey methods,” the Census Bureau’s current director, Robert L. Santos, said in a blogpost.

During her tenure as director, Bryant oversaw the enumeration of the 1990 census and the Census Bureau’s response to issues around undercounting, Santos said. “She also worked to improve the quality of economic statistics and led the Census Bureau away from pencil-and-paper interviewing and towards computer-assisted data collection.” Santos noted Bryant recounted some of her experiences from this time to the Census Bureau’s oral history program.

Santos wrote that Bryant began her 38-year career in survey research at age 44, following two decades in which she raised three children, participated in part-time and volunteer work and completed graduate studies. She directed national research for three presidential commissions: President Gerald Ford’s Commission on Observance of International Women’s Year (1975-77), President Jimmy Carter’s Commission on World Hunger (1980) and President Ronald Reagan’s Commission on American Outdoors (1986). It was President George H.W. Bush who appointed her director of the Census Bureau in 1989.

NPR said her job “at the top of the federal government’s largest statistical agency came with packed agendas for touring the country to help promote the census, testifying before Congress to advocate for the bureau and bearing the brunt of lawsuits that often come after census numbers are released.”

Once her career at the Census Bureau was over, Bryant took a position at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where she was both a research scientist and director of the American Customer Satisfaction Index. She retired in 2008 at age 82. Santos noted she had been active in the American Marketing Association and the American Association of Public Opinion Research. She was a board member of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research and a fellow at the American Statistical Association.

Bryant received a physics degree from Cornell University in 1947. Her master’s degree in journalism (1967) and PhD in communications (1970) were earned at Michigan State University. She was married to John H. Bryant for 49 years until his death in 1997.

Her obituary said that throughout her demanding career, Bryant volunteered in community and church, entertained guests and organized and participated in family vacations and gatherings. She inspired her children and grandchildren, as well as the many other people in her life.

The Rev. Melissa Anne Rogers, associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, recalled Bryant and her family members coming up with many creative entries during church craft events, including the church’s beloved tradition of fashioning dioramas based on Bible stories using Peeps marshmallow candies as biblical characters.

“I remember what a delighted grandparent she was. Barb was right in there with her daughters and granddaughters,” Rogers said. “They are known for their birthday cakes, which are very creative.”

“This woman was the director of the Census,” Rogers said. “Our kids would say she simply counted people, but there’s nothing simple about counting people and making the nation better by having greater equity and fairness.”

Rogers said Bryant “did retirement and widowhood with strength and fortitude. There was nothing limp or lukewarm about Barb. She was a good listener as well as a good leader.”

Bryant had lived in a retirement community for the past 10 years or so. “Even though her capacities had diminished, she maintained this beautiful kindness she had her whole life,” Rogers said, adding she saw Bryant twice in the last few days before her death. “She was upbeat and easygoing and happy, even as she came to the end,” Rogers said.

Bryant is survived by three children: Linda Bryant Valentine of Louisville, Randal Everitt Bryant of Pittsburgh, and Lois Beth Bryant of Ann Arbor, as well as eight grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Revised Common Lectionary Readings for Sunday, April 16, 2023, the Second Sunday of Easter (Year A)

Today’s Focus: Trailblazer Barbara Everitt Bryant dies at age 96

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Nadia Ayoub, Mission co-worker serving in Greece, World Mission, Presbyterian Mission Agency
Khulan Baigalimaa, Trust Operations Administrator-Funds Services, Presbyterian Foundation

Let us pray

Holy God, whose Spirit brings unity of purpose to people of faith from widely different backgrounds, bless the work equipping us for Christian witness and service. In Christ’s name. Amen.

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