Five members of the Thomas Jefferson High School family were honored on Friday, March 31, at the TJ Alumni Association’s annual awards ceremony.
Four of the honorees are distinguished graduates: H. Russell “Rusty” Brutsche; Michael Carter; Craig Melde and Audrey Pinkerton. Another honoree is longtime staff member and parent volunteer Annette Elliott.
Brutsche, Class of 1963, founded a company that changed the face and sound of live rock-and-roll concerts. Interested in building things but also having a love of music, he started his career as an engineer designing laser systems at Texas Instruments. Later, he devoted his professional efforts to Showco, a company he started to provide audio systems to the newly emergency concert touring industry.
His first customer was the group Three Dog Night, followed by Led Zeppelin – the first of many big-name acts. With the addition of Vari-Lite, a computer-controlled stage lighting system, he won three Emmy Awards for outstanding achievement in engineering.
As for his time at TJ, he said two of his least-favorite classes taught him valuable skills he has used often throughout his career, both for communicating: English and speech.
Carter, Class of 1979, set a national high school shot-put record with a throw of 81 feet 3.5 inches during his senior year, earning “High School Athlete of the Year” honors from Track and Field News. He played football for SMU from 1979 to 1982, finishing his college career on an undefeated squad.
In track and field, he continued to compete, winning four indoor and three outdoor NCAA shot-put championships. He later earned a silver medal in the shot-put at the 1984 Olympics, also earning a Super Bowl ring the same year as a member of the San Francisco 49ers.
Carter was unable to attend the Friday event, and the award was accepted on his behalf TJ athletics coordinator Kenny Jones.
Melde, Class of 1969, is an award-winning architect who co-founded and is senior principal at Architexas. The firm focuses on historic preservation, and has won many wards for work on its courthouse renovations across Texas, restoration of Fair Park’s Automobile and Centennial buildings, and preservation of numerous Dallas churches, hotels and other structures. Melde helped form the Dallas Historic Preservation Program and plan the Dallas Arts District. He also serves on the Fair Park Design Review Task Force.
His time at TJ was surrounded by historic times marked by tension in the fight for civil rights and the Vietnam War, but the school provided a fantastic place to learn.
Pinkterton, Class of 1986, has made a career of improving the profitability of struggling companies. She holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and a masters of engineering management. Since 2013, she has been the owner and president of Forward Concept, LLC, a commercial construction firm. In 2016, she was elected to the Dallas ISD Board of Trustees to represent District 7.
She said she never expected to be among TJ’s distinguished alumni.
“The only recognition I got was being voted ‘most dependable’ by the teachers,” Pinkerton said of her time in school. “I think that is because I turned my homework in on time and I was always willing to step up when there was a need.”
She says that pattern is one that has been woven in her life since graduating 30 years ago.
“To the students of today – today’s Patriots – I would say you too can be distinguished, whether you win an award or not, by showing up to do what is required of you, and by stepping up to help others, to make the world a better place.”
Elliott served the TJ community officially for 28 years as an assistant to at least nine principals. As a TJ parent, she took in active part in the school’s PTA and served as president of the TJ Band Club. In retirement, she continues to mentor and support TJ staff. She said she feels blessed to have been part of the school community for so long.