This 2011 Moorestown High graduate with the sandy red hair laughs easily and, apart from that executive-suite suit, looks like a typical college kid. He’s now a sophomore at the College of New Jersey in Ewing.
In conversation, however, it becomes clear that his run for office was no schoolboy lark, but the latest achievement of a restless, ambitious prodigy.
At 13, Pugh taught English and history at a prep school in Argentina for five months (“the kids all thought I was 20”) while living in his own apartment, buying and cooking his own food, and driving to work on a motor scooter. His older sister had been teaching at the school, and when he offered his services, the administrators accepted.
He was flying airplanes by then, and earned his pilot’s license at 16.
The son of Moorestown Police Sgt. Randolph Pugh is an EMT on the Moorestown ambulance squad and a volunteer for the Red Cross, Salvation Army, and USO. He’s also an instructor in incident response for the Federal Emergency Management Administration.
“I’m traveling to New Mexico in a month” to lead a training session, he said.
That might seem enough of a resumé for a 40-year-old. But last year, with the ink hardly dry on his high school diploma, Pugh arrived at the New Jersey Governor’s Office of Volunteerism as an intern and, within weeks, was the paid head of the youth and collegiate service bureau.
“He’s a real fireball — very energetic and a really nice guy,” Donna Teal, a worker in the Volunteer Office, said last week. “He’s not a normal kid.”
Dennis Burleigh, 58, agrees.
“He’s such a gifted kid,” said Burleigh, a township resident and family friend who campaigned hard for Pugh’s school board bid. “He could be a representative some day, or a senator, or run a corporation with tens of thousands of employees. Heck, he could even be president.”
What makes Pugh’s precocity all the more remarkable is that he was so slow to speak as a child that his parents wondered if he were autistic or developmentally disabled.
Though tests indicated he was neither, “the doctors said there was nothing they could do,” recalled his father, with whom he lives. They advised Pugh’s parents to begin teaching their little boy sign language.
Then, one day, at age 6, “he started mumbling at the kitchen table,” Randolph Pugh said. Within a year, he said, Brandon’s verbal skills were equal to those of his classmates, and by age 8 or 9, he was seeking out adults for conversation. In ninth grade, he began taking advanced classes.
“He’s just got something up there” in his head “that’s different from most people,” his father said.
“It used to be people would say to him, ‘Oh, you’re Randy Pugh’s kid.’ Now they tell me, ‘Oh, you’re Brandon’s dad.’ ”
Most of Pugh’s childhood schoolmates are now scattered at colleges, making it difficult to assess their take on this apparent wunderkind. Reached by email at Yale University, Colin Groundwater, salutatorian of Pugh’s graduating class, described him as “a tremendous asset to the Interact Club, a public-service organization sponsored by the Rotary Club, setting records for service hours that will never be matched.”
Pugh attributes some of his margin of victory to ballots mailed in by his classmates.
He admits to having been “very naive” when he began his run for the Moorestown school board.
“I just assumed people [seeking the office] were looking out for the best interests” of township schools, he said. But several candidates were “jealous of my age,” he believes, and formed a ticket in hope of thwarting him.
Not so, said Christian J. Moye. “I didn’t give him a second thought.”
Moye, a Harvard MBA and chief operating officer of a clinical research firm in Mount Laurel who also is on the faculty of the Wharton School, said he, Weinstein, and Dimitri Schneiberg created a ticket in the hope of bringing political balance to the school board.
“Brandon may have been playing politics more than anyone else,” Moye said.
He said he found it “kind of insulting” to be compared with Pugh, whose youth and lack of a college degree, Moye said, make him underqualified to steer a school system of Moorestown’s caliber.
“But the voters seem to think he’s qualified,” Moye said. “I hope he is.”
Pugh placed third in a field of six candidates, and will serve for three years.
He describes himself as a fiscally conservative Republican, loath to raise school taxes but committed to maintaining the district’s academic reputation.
Despite acceptances to several universities near Washington, he said, he chose the College of New Jersey, where he’s majoring in government, politics, and homeland security, so he could live and perform public service locally.
Although he doesn’t have a girlfriend, “I hope to raise a family here,” he said.
He envisions a career in FEMA or the Department of Homeland Security, he said, but “I’m not ruling out public office. In seven to 10 years I could also run for the Assembly.”
Contact David O'Reilly at 856-779-3841 or email@example.com.