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Tom Adams, ’05, remembers his first semester as a La Salle University student. He vividly recalls an introductory-level accounting course because, he said, it changed the direction of his life and career.
Adams’ financial accounting professor was Paul Brazina.
“I was already a School of Business student,” said Adams, who today is an assistant professor of accounting at La Salle, “but I switched majors right after my course with Paul. I loved his enthusiasm. Accounting can seem intimidating to some students, but Paul made you feel like you could do it. There’s no one who teaches accounting better than Paul.”
In May, Brazina retired after 46 years as an educator and administrator at La Salle’s School of Business, including eight years as the school’s dean. A veteran of the United States Navy, Brazina is known to his former students as much for his bowties as his animated teaching style and engaging personality. The West Philadelphia native, who today resides in Merion, Pa., led accounting courses at 20th Street and Olney Avenue since 1974.
“My time at La Salle is memorable because of the students,” Brazina said. “Every student has potential, and it’s up to us as teachers to get the best out of them. It’s not just about the grades they earn today or the money they make tomorrow. It’s about family, building professional relationships, and making a difference in your community. That’s what I tried to instill in our students every day at La Salle.”
Brazina, after serving as a naval officer, worked as a certified public accountant (CPA) for a firm that would later become PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). Along the way, he earned his MBA from Pennsylvania State University and considered teaching. La Salle, according to Brazina, was seeking “a teacher-practitioner” who could bring accounting expertise into the classroom. The University hired Brazina in September 1974.
His goal, he said, was to make a difference working with young people.
“I try to bring comments, experiences, and real examples into the classroom,” said Brazina, who remains a partner of a boutique CPA firm in Bala Cynwyd. “A little time spent with a student can change their view of the world and their career. Working at La Salle never felt like a job because coming to campus and working with the students was fun for me.”
MarySheila McDonald, J.D., met Brazina as colleagues on the executive board of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Colleges of Business Administration. Brazina later hired McDonald as the school’s associate dean.
“I was drawn to his intellect, humility, and humor,” said McDonald, dean of La Salle’s School of Business. “It was a joy to work for and with him.”
That humor and an entertainment component factored into Brazina’s educational delivery style, said Kristin Wentzel, ’90, Ph.D., a former student of Brazina’s who today serves as professor and chair of La Salle’s Department of Accounting.
“He keeps students’ interest by connecting the textbook to real life through his stories,” she said. “He loves what he does and he cares deeply about his students and his colleagues. Our department has a long legacy of excellent teachers and Paul is truly one of the best in our history.”
From CPAs to CEOs, former students praise Brazina for the engaging, personalized approach to teaching that became the trademark of his nearly half-century in the classroom. It’s certainly what stood out to Judy Spires ’75, MBA ’09. A La Salle University Trustee, she admired Brazina’s “friendly and approachable personality.”
“Everyone I have ever talked to who has an accounting degree from La Salle has told me Paul was the professor responsible for their success,” said Spires, chief executive officer and chairperson of KB Holdings, a Delaware- based firm that owns Kings Super Markets and Balducci’s Markets.
Brazina’s “intelligence and wit came shining through” in every lecture, said AmyLynn Flood, ’95, a PwC partner and La Salle Trustee.
Another former student and current colleague of Brazina’s is C. Andrew “Andy” Lafond, ’86. His connection to Brazina spans several generations. He and his brothers, Mark, ’88, and Dan, ’91, along with his son Andrew, ’22, took classes led by Brazina. When Lafond speaks with La Salle’s accounting alumni, he can expect they will ask about Brazina.
“He is La Salle Accounting,” Lafond said. “After having one class with him, you wanted to be an accountant. He was so good because of his extensive business and accounting knowledge obtained through his accounting practice. La Salle students were so lucky to have him in class.”
“I have had a number of outstanding teachers whom I admire, respect, and try to emulate. Paul Brazina was the best teacher I ever had,” said Richard Mshomba, ’85, Ph.D., who serves as a professor of economics at La Salle. “La Salle will not be the same without him, but La Salle is also stronger because of him.”
Brazina’s guidance extended beyond the classroom. He introduced Paul J. Kelly III, ’78, MBA ’10, to a group that provides pro-bono accounting services to nonprofits in the Philadelphia region. That opportunity later led Kelly to become a board member and president of an organization in nearby Bucks County that operates a halfway home for women recovering from substance abuse.
“That experience taught me a great deal about nonprofit governance and management that served me well later in my career,” said Kelly, principal at Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based CliftonLarsonAllen LLP.
Brazina cherishes the bonds he has developed with numerous colleagues and countless students. (“I’ve been doing this for so long,” he said, “that some of my students have retired!”) He also found value in living and embodying the Lasallian culture and benefiting from the guidance of the Christian Brothers. “You learn, as a young person and then later in life, that you are a part of this great community, and that stays with you forever,” he said.
To Jeff Boyle, ’88, Brazina was more than an accounting professor; he was a practitioner who could field any question and provide a carefully curated reply that helped explain difficult concepts to students. And he was a man lauded for “the genuine investments he makes in relationships,” said Boyle, who leads PwC’s advisory practice for the Mid-Atlantic region.
“If I follow the way Paul lives and loves life,” Boyle said, “and if I can commit to being anywhere near the role model he is, I will have considered my life a success.”
—Christopher A. Vito