Community honors life of Helen Williams Bronson, first lady of Bethune-Cookman University

Bronson passed away March 5

Helen Williams Bronson, known as the first lady of Bethune-Cookman University, passed away on March 5. (Bethune-Cookman University BCU Marketing) (Copyright 2021 by WKMG ClickOrlando - All rights reserved.)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Loved ones, friends and an entire university community are remembering a woman of grace and elegance who leaves a huge legacy behind.

Known as the first lady of Bethune-Cookman University and the curator of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation, Helen Williams Bronson, passed away from natural causes on March 5. She was 93 years old and the wife of BCU’s fourth president, Dr. Oswald P. Bronson.

BCU’s vice president of Athletics Lynn Thompson, who grew up with Bronson’s children and knew the family well, described Bronson as a woman of faith who had so much substance.

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“This university and this community is where it is now because of great people like Helen Williams Bronson,” Thompson said.

Bronson served alongside her late husband as he was president of the university for 29 years. The couple was known for opening their home to students and the community for fellowship and prayer. In addition, Dr. Bronson was a pastor and his wife was the first lady.

“She was iconic, opened their house for Bible study, for counsel for so young many men and women they birthed churches out of their house,” said Thompson. “She set the tone for womanhood at Bethune-Cookman University during her era and perpetuating the sense of family that her husband and her family portrayed.”

Thompson said the Bronsons were a perfect couple who served as mentors, and community leaders for so many students. They were also known for providing thousands of African Americans with access to a college education. Her husband, while president at BCU for decades, significantly aided in the growing enrollment at the university, increasing the college’s endowment and welcoming generations of students who are now alumni.

Thompson told News 6 that Bronson was also a huge role model especially for women and she was a natural-born leader.

“We will forever be grateful for the leadership, that quiet leadership that she had. She never stood in his shadows, she stood by his side and led in that manner and what a great woman she was,” said Thompson. “She set the tone for womanhood at Bethune-Cookman university during her era and also perpetuating the sense of family that her husband and her family portrayed.”

Bronson also served as the executive director of the Mary McLeod Bethune Foundation aimed at leading African Americans to continued greatness. Read more about the foundation and her efforts here.

The Bronson’s were also advocates for inclusion. Thompson said the couple came to Daytona Beach shortly after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. while many protests were still happening in the area.

“When he came in 1975 as president he ushered in a new era of inclusion where it was still simmering,” said Thompson.

The first lady of BCU’s family plans to hold a private funeral to lay Bronson to rest. She is survived by a host of family members.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider commemorating the legacy of Bronson by making a gift to support the Dr. and Mrs. Oswald P. Bronson Scholarship Fund at Bethune-Cookman University.

Gifts can be made by using this link below or by contacting Mr. Sean Lyn, Director of Alumni Affairs at 386-481-2928 or This scholarship provides tuition assistance to well-deserving undergraduate students at Bethune-Cookman University.

Here is a list of other ways to donate.

About the Author:

Jerry Askin is an Atlanta native who came to News 6 in March 2018 with an extensive background in breaking news.