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Former WWCC chief president Derek Brandes dies

UPDATED: Sun., April 12, 2020

By Sheila Hagar Walla Walla Union-Bulletin

WALLA WALLA – Former Walla Walla Community College president Derek Brandes has died after a more than yearlong battle with lung cancer.

Brandes, 50, died Friday morning at his home, said Chad Hickox, the community college’s acting president.

His death comes a month after his resignation from the college’s top administrative post.

Brandes went to work at the college in July 2016, bringing his experiences as a dean of career and technical education at Pasco’s Columbia Basin College and a vice president at Auburn’s Green River College.

A nonsmoker, he was diagnosed with lung adenocarcinoma in January 2019. He immediately began receiving treatment in Seattle and spent more than a year traveling back and forth from Walla Walla for medical care.

At his resignation last month, he said he needed to devote his attention to his family and treatment.

“Cancer and stress don’t go well together,” he said then.

Family accounts of Brandes’ health posted online said he went into the local hospital about two weeks ago for what was thought to be an infection but turned out to be the last days of his life.

On Derek’s CaringBridge online journal, Cate Brandes wrote that her husband was able to go home to hospice care April 8.

He fought his cancer “to the bitter end,” Cate said, adding he hoped to live until February when their son Dawson will turn 14.

“He fully intended to get stronger again, he planned on working. There was never a doubt in his mind,” she said.

Brandes spent most of his childhood growing up in Richland, nurturing a love of sports – he was a diehard Washington State University Cougars fan – and a deep faith in God, Cate said.

When they married nearly 15 years ago, Cate came with “bonus daughter” Casey Herron, a student who had become like one of her own children when Cate taught high school.

Casey and her family live in Tri-Cities, as do most Brandes family members. Cate said she and Dawson are likely to return there for the family support.

Coming to Walla Walla to head the college was Derek’s dream job, she said.

“He ate, slept and breathed his job. He was on the job all the time, he put his whole heart into it,” she said.

Cate said her husband carried a “fabulous” attitude throughout his illness.

“Every morning was good, even when I looked at him and said ‘I don’t know how you have the energy to go to work,’ ” she said. “He did not complain at all.”

Tim Burt, WWCC board chairman, said in a statement that Brandes was a tireless advocate for student success, noting that everyone who met him was touched by his kindness and generosity of spirit.

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