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Institute for Public Service Reporting – Memphis

The Pandemic

Retired UTHSC director first to die from COVID-19 in Shelby county

Kenneth Bradshaw had just retired after 46 years at Memphis med school

Family, friends and co-workers filled a dining hall March 6 to celebrate the retirement of 64-year-old Kenneth Bradshaw.

Bradshaw had worked at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center for 46 years, rising through the ranks from carpenter’s assistant.

He retired as director of facilities administration, overseeing 200 people, 38 buildings and a $19 million annual budget.

“That retirement party was the happiest day of his life,” said his wife Beverly Watkins Bradshaw. “He could just feel the gratitude for his tireless work and the impact it would leave at UTHSC. He was so happy.”

Bradshaw started his first week of retirement at church on Sunday, March 8, helping his pastor at World Overcomers Fellowship in Hickory Hill.

Mayor Jim Strickland attended the service that Sunday. Bradshaw met the mayor and they took a photo.

Bradshaw was a big man who had big plans for his retirement. They included launching a youth mentoring program called “From Carpenters 2 Architects.”

<strong>Kenneth Bradshaw</strong>
Kenneth Bradshaw

He’d taken four years of mechanical drawing at Manassas High School and dreamed of becoming an architect. But his parents couldn’t afford to send him to college, so he went to work for one instead. At one point, he managed UT’s architecture planning department.

After his retirement party, Bradshaw spent several days shopping at Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart. He and Beverly also bought a burial plot at Memorial Park. It had been on their to-do list for some time.

Several days later, Bradshaw felt a cold coming on.

On Tuesday, March 24, he started having trouble breathing. Beverly called 911. She waited three hours in the emergency room at Baptist Memorial Hospital.

Finally, a nurse talked to her and told her that her husband had pneumonia and was being tested for COVID-19.

On Wednesday, March 25, Bradshaw was put in a hospital room in isolation.

“He prayed prior to my leaving the hospital, prior to them taking him to a room where he could have no visitors,” Beverly said.

Family and friends called Bradshaw’s hospital room all that day, but his breathing difficulty wouldn’t allow him to talk very long.

On Thursday, March 26, Bradshaw was sent to the intensive care unit. He called Beverly at 9:19 a.m. She headed for the ICU.

“Before I could get there, he had gone home to be with the Lord,” Beverly said Wednesday. “The cause of his death was COVID-19 pneumonia. It all happened so quickly.”

Kenneth Bradshaw died Thursday, March 26, becoming Shelby County’s first COVID-19 victim.

“He didn’t suffer long,” Beverly said. “His body was not put on an ice truck in a bag like those that died from the virus up north. It all happened so quickly. Ken never gave up, never gave in, always gave back, and never forgot where he came from.”

Brad Watkins said his stepfather was looking forward to a long and productive retirement.

“He was a decent, hard-working, humble guy,” said Watkins. “He’s a guy who did everything right, everything you’re supposed to do, work hard, take care of your family, pay your taxes, save up for retirement. Now he’s gone. I couldn’t imagine this happening a week ago. People should take this virus seriously. If you’re feeling sick, stay home. Take precautions.”

Kenneth James Bradshaw, who was born in St. Louis, was the oldest child of Kenneth Earl Bradshaw and Claudina Sayles Bradshaw Brown.

Marc Bradshaw said his big brother was one of the kindest men he’s ever known. “He loved his family, his brothers and sister, and he’d do anything at all for any of us,” Marc said.

Kenneth played football and ran track at Manassas High, and was a member of the school’s state champion 440-relay team.

He graduated from Manassas in 1973 and went to work in the logistics department at UTHSC in February 1974.

“He loved learning from the older guys, and they loved his work ethics and eagerness to learn,” Beverly said. “They fondly called him ‘The Kid’ and each one would leave some of their personal work tools with him whenever they retired.”

Bradshaw rose from carpenter’s assistant to senior skilled carpenter to supervisor, becoming UT’s first African American building superintendent for facilities.

“He was an inspiration,” said Kimberly Moore, assistance vice chancellor for facilities. “He was always working to help others. He found out someone needed some medicine, and he rallied all of us to pitch in and help that person.”

Bradshaw also was an independent contractor and owned his own business, Bradshaw Home Improvement and Remodeling, for more than 20 years.

He was a member of World Overcomers Church for 22 years. In recent years, he served the church as a Watchman, guarding the pastor’s exit door, one Bradshaw had built himself.

“He was a multi-talented guy,” said Kennis Settles, a fellow church member and Watchman and Kenneth’s friend for 20 years. “He was the type of guy who would do anything he could to help you. No telling how many people he helped over the years.”

Kenneth and Beverly would have celebrated their seventh wedding anniversary April 6.

“Ken had a personal relationship with the Lord and always placed God first,” Beverly said. “He never left in the morning without praying, he never went to bed without bowing on his knees. And as much as he liked food, he never ever ate hurriedly prior to blessing the food. He did a lot of good for a lot of people and his journey home has impacted many.”

Bradshaw was preceded in death by his parents, and his former wife, Beverly Elayne Bradshaw.

He leaves his stepchildren, Claudia Rogers, Roland Carruthers and Bradley Watkins; his grandchildren, LaDarrius Carruthers, Alexis Bailey, and Brie Walker; his great-grandchild, Amyra Wiley; his siblings, Jeri Bradshaw Clark, Gunda Bradshaw, Kennetha Stevens, Marc Bradshaw, and Cyrolin Bradshaw.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be sent to Caritas Village in Binghampton at

This story first appeared at under exclusive use agreement with The Institute. Photos reprinted with permission of The Daily Memphian.

Written By

David Waters is Distinguished Journalist in Residence and assistant director of the Institute for Public Service Reporting at the University of Memphis.

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