In Memory of Carl Nordyke Brownsberger

The main arc of my father’s life was simple.  He admired his parents and followed in their footsteps.  He became a doctor so he could care for people.  He was devoted to my mother and our family.  He died at home in his sleep.

Carl Brownsberger’s grandfather was an early leader in the Seventh Day Adventist faith, which places a focus on health.  Carl’s parents and their siblings all became medical doctors. 

He was born in India where his parents were medical missionaries.  Neither he nor his father could fend off malaria and after a few years, the young family returned to Glendale, California to join a vibrant community of Adventists. 

He chafed against the lifestyle restrictions of strict Adventism, especially the Saturday sabbath which separated him from his classmates and made it hard to date girls or participate in sports.   

Carl’s father spent the war years as a surgeon in San Francisco, patching up soldiers injured on the Pacific front.  By the time his father returned to Glendale, Carl was a late teenager expecting to live as he wanted to live.  Father and son argued about religion. 

When he went to college, Carl discovered positivist philosophy and found justification for abandonment of his Adventist upbringing.  His allegiance to his parents remained so deep that until late in life he often felt the need to re-explain his choice. 

He followed his parents to medical school.  He never gave a thought to any other path.   

He was an old-school physician:  He saw patients as people, not as charts.  When my sister and I were little, he was our family doctor and he carefully attended to our smallest ailments.  I can still feel his gentle touch and hear his kindly diagnostic patter. 

As a psychiatrist, he was always available to his patients.  He gave them our home number and even took their calls during dinner.  We often tried to eat quietly at the kitchen table while he held the wall phone tight to his ear. Listening to him listen to his patients, I learned from his caring and his careful attention to how his patients were feeling.   

As he rebelled against the faith of his parents, he was also willing to challenge medical dogma.  In a field of medicine in which there were multiple rigid schools of thought, he was a pragmatist:  He always wanted to do whatever worked and he partnered with each patient to figure out what would help.   

Through the years, many strangers have been willing to tell me how much they appreciated the kindness and care that my father gave them. 

He had little patience for bureaucracy.  As health care insurers tightened pre-authorization rules, he found himself spending too much time on the phone explaining to unsympathetic bureaucrats his care plans for patients.  He retired at 65 because he felt medicine was changing in ways he didn’t like. 

But he never stopped caring for people.  In his retirement, he volunteered for a hospice and became their medical director.  Well into his 80s, he would leave the house with medical bag to care for aging friends. 

He had a sweet retirement life with my mother.  In a tongue-in-cheek Christmas letter, he bragged to friends that “Susan and I have found a new way to make love – we read to each other.” 

When my mother became ill with pancreatic cancer, he rallied for one final care mission.  Her death in February shattered him, but he pulled himself together to do all that needed to be done. 

Recently, he seemed to be rediscovering joy in the little things of life.  When he died in his sleep earlier this week, my sense was not so much that he died of a broken heart, but that he had no one else left to take care of. 

Among his many wise sayings was this: “There is a big difference between thinking things and doing things.”  While his inquiring mind ranged wide and he doubted all dogma, in his deeds he was a very religious man. 

Published by Will Brownsberger

Will Brownsberger is State Senator from the Second Suffolk and Middlesex District.

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169 Comments

  1. My deepest condolences on your Dad’s passing. Thanks for writing about the legacy he left.

  2. Will, my condolences to you and your family. I am not sure that I ever met your father, but now I wish I had.

  3. Thank you for sharing your wonderful love and experiences with your Father! So sorry he had to leave this earth but gladdened to know you had so many years with him. May we all be so blessed to not only live such a wonderful life but to also depart peacefully in our own home.

  4. What a beautiful tribute to your father who must have been an extraordinary man. May his memory be a blessing and may you have strength.

  5. My sympathy and prayers will. This has been a tough year for you and your family. Both your parents were compassionate and admirable.

  6. Beautiful tribute. So sorry for your loss. I wish we all could have known him—he sounds like a kind, caring, compassionate soul who will be greatly missed.

  7. What a remarkable man…and what a moving tribute this remembrance is. You have been blessed with wonderful parents, Will, and you are undoubtedly their finest legacy.
    With sincere condolences for your loss
    Susan

  8. This is a wonderful tribute, Will. My thoughts are with you and your family.
    Charlotte

  9. Sorry Carl left us, but you can carry on in his image in “doing things”. Thanks fro sharing these personal thoughts. Ottavio

  10. Our sympathies to you and your family. That was a great story about your father. Thanks for sharing. JB

  11. A life well lived; together with a son & children and grandchildren caring on his legacy. Kindness, caring and thoughtful reflective life- with a healthy dose of independent action. Thank you for sharing. May his Memory be eternal.

  12. My sincere condolences, Senator Brownsberger, on the loss of your beloved father. May your memories afford you some peace and comfort as you and your family mourn your loss.

  13. Condolences. What a good man. And I share his worry about the medical profession when ER nurses have to stay un-paid hours to do the paperwork they had no time for during workhours.

  14. Beautifully said William, you follow in his footsteps in so many ways. Thoughts to you and your family.

  15. A lovely tribute to someone who clearly was a wise, caring man. Thank you, Will, for sharing this.

  16. Will, I’m sorry to hear of the passing of your father so soon after your mother. My sympathy to you and your family for your loss. Your father’s influence lives on in how you care so deeply for others as well. May he always be with you in spirit.

  17. Will–condolences. I am so sorry for the loss of your father and, earlier, of your mother. Your wonderful remembrances paint a vivid and wonderful picture of your parents and say a lot about how you became the wonderful man and legislator you are. My heart is with you.
    Best, Nikki

    1. Dear Mr. Brownsberger,
      What Nikki wrote is exactly what I wanted to say.
      Thank you for sharing and thank you for all you do for us.
      Sincerely,
      Andres

  18. Oh, Will–this must be a hard year indeed for you. Our deepest condolences! Your reflections on both your mother and father–wonderful people!–go far to shed light on how you became the admirable public servant we are so grateful for.

  19. Dear Senator Brownsberger- You’re message is enormously moving and meaningful. Your father sounds like a fascinating, good man- a mensch. May his name be a blessing.

  20. My condolences to you and your family, Will. To lose both parents in a year is a lot, and I hope that their memory is a blessing to you and yours.

  21. I am so sorry for the loss of your father, Will, especially coming so close after your mother’s passing in February. You dad sounded like an
    extraordinary man and an inspiration to everyone whose life he touched. This has been a very rough year for your family. I send prayers and wishes for peace for all of you.

  22. Will, very sorry for your loss. You’ve written a wonderful remembrance. I have such fond memories of Carl. I loved reading about his favorite saying. I hope you’ll share more of his sayings in the future.

  23. What a beautiful tribute to a wonderful man.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

  24. I saw in the neighborhood walking slowly with your father in the last few months and I knew of your mother’s passing. It was touching to see you both and I could tell there was great love and respect. They must have been so proud of you. It seems a gift, from the outside, that you were able to be close to each other. Thank you for the real and moving tribute. – Sara Smith, Slade St.

  25. What a beautiful remembrance. In your unstinting public service, you reflect the generous spirit of both of your parents. Condolences to your entire family.

  26. Will,
    Both your parents were lovely, caring, exceptional human beings, and it was always a joy to see them. You are carrying the torch forward, and as a constituent and friend, I salute you and your family and the values you bring to our community. Thank you for sharing your father’s life history with us.

  27. Loss of a parent at any age is always a time of sorrow. My deepest condolences to you Will. I am reminded of advice I received from a doctor in response to my question about how to ensure a long, healthy life for myself. The response: “Pick your parents, and grandparents wisely.” It seems you did that, Will.

  28. It is very hard to lose a parent. Sending sympathy for your loss. And, thank you for sharing these remembrances of your father. He is an inspiration.

  29. If it is sad to hear that a person such as your father has left us, it is so heartening to hear that such a person has been among us. Thank you for sharing this appreciation; my condolences to you and your family.

  30. Wow. How lucky you were to have this man as your father. This of course just makes your loss harder. My thoughts are with you and your family. Hang in there.

  31. I met your parents only once, and I sensed they were good people. Your description of your father’s history explains a lot about you, too; now I know why you often march to a different drummer. It must be hard on your family to lose both your parents in such quick succession, so I wish you all well.

  32. I’m so sorry for your loss. He seemed like a wonderful man and clearly will be remembered as such. I’m sure you’re making him very proud.

    1. Yours sounds like the family that keeps on giving. Very sorry for the passing of your dear mom earlier, and now your dad. They raised an generous son. Sincere condolences.

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