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MIT Better World

By Kris Willcox

David Brookfield ’69, Donald’s son, explains: “He asked his dad what it was. He said, ‘That’s a university where you can get really excellent technical skills.’ So my dad decided right then that MIT was where he wanted to go.”

Donald was admitted just one year later, although the Institute required him to wait a year until he turned 17 to enroll. He graduated in 1932 with a degree in electrochemical engineering and throughout his life brought creativity and determination to his work as well as appreciation for a job well done, his son David says.

Like his father, David Brookfield attended MIT. He studied mechanical engineering before following his father and grandfather into the family business, Brookfield Engineering Laboratory. Founded during the Great Depression, the business grew into a globally recognized company. Its signature product, the Brookfield viscometer, was designated by the American Society for Testing & Materials as the national measurement standard for quality control of viscosity. David notes with pride that the Brookfield viscometer has become the global standard in viscosity measurement.

Before the family company developed this instrument, David explains, there was only one reasonably affordable viscometer on the market. Donald took a look at it and told his own father, “I can make that better, if you’ll give me a chance.” And he did. “He was a very sharp engineer,” David says. “He invented the original Brookfield viscometer.”

To celebrate his father’s legacy and their family’s long connection with MIT, David and his wife, Jeanne-Marie, established the Donald Brookfield Graduate Fellowship in Mechanical Engineering in the fall of 2019. “My father was definitely the inspiration for this gift,” says David. Now retired, David and Jeanne-Marie Brookfield live in Sharon, Massachusetts, in the home where they raised their four children.

The family sold Brookfield Engineering Laboratories in 2016 (it remains in operation as part of AMETEK, Inc.), but David says he is grateful to have spent his career working with his father, siblings, and other relatives to build and grow the company. “I was very happy to be involved in a small family business, because those businesses are really the heart blood of American industry.” His hope for the Brookfield Fellowship is that it will nurture, in MIT graduate students, some of the same ingenuity and drive that helped his family’s business to flourish.

Supporting students

Jeanne-Marie connects their fellowship gift to the family’s core values of living simply and sharing what they have with others. “You need a sense of purpose,” she says, noting that giving back, whether to MIT, other philanthropies, or to family and friends, provides purpose as well as joy. “MIT does wonderful things,” Jeanne-Marie says. “I was very heartened to read in [the Fall 2020 issue of] Spectrum about the wonderful contributions being made by MIT students and faculty in Covid-19 research during this pandemic.”

David says he hopes the fellowship will help MIT students meet the challenges they will face both at the Institute and after graduation. “Everybody that goes to MIT has to work incredibly hard. It is not a school that gives benefits away; you have to earn your stripes.” That rigor may be why MIT graduates are known for achieving the extraordinary, he says, whether they are starting a new business or founding a new field of study.

“I hope, with the fellowship, to help MIT attract the most talented students and help those individuals to achieve all that they are capable of.” One such individual is Elizabeth Pedlow ’20, a master’s candidate in mechanical engineering who is the first recipient of the Brookfield Fellowship. The Brookfields were pleased to meet Elizabeth in early 2020 and hear about her work at MIT and her hopes for the future. Their meeting also meant a great deal to Elizabeth, who was grateful for the chance to thank the Brookfields in person for supporting her MIT education. “This fellowship has changed my life,” she says.