In Memory of Susan Campbell Brownsberger

When my mother received a definitive diagnosis of pancreatic cancer, she faced death with realism and equanimity.  The final indignities tried her courage, but her grace sustained us as we grieved through her swift decline.  

She was a beloved daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, and friend to many.  She was also a critically-acclaimed translator of Russian literature.  

Her last major life project, which she completed only weeks before cancer began to tighten its final grip, was a family history.  For years, she pored over genealogical records and available documents and produced a collection of narratives that deepened the family’s sense of connection to American history and ideals.  

She taught her children from an early age to take American history seriously.  She brought us to the Lexington Green and the Old North Bridge where the “embattled farmers stood and fired the shot heard around the world.”  The revolution of common people against monarchs who styled themselves as divinely-appointed eventually spread from there across Europe.  

She taught us early that Jefferson’s declaration that “all men are created equal” was neither complete nor fully realized at the time of the revolution.   

She took pride in the intellectual leadership of Massachusetts and taught us that leading abolitionists spoke out in Boston.  The war to end slavery figured large in the songs she sang with us and the poetry she read to us.  

She always choked up reading “Barbara Frietchie,” identifying with the heroine of that poem, who snatches up a Union flag shot down by an advancing column of Confederate soldiers.  “’Shoot if you must this old grey head, But spare your country’s flag,’ she said.”  In the poem, the heroine’s moral force prevails and the Union flag waves over the long Confederate columns advancing through the town.  

Mom’s father’s family was in Ohio before the Civil War.  One branch ran a station on the underground railroad.  They corresponded with John Brown while he was in prison before he was hanged for the raid on Harper’s Ferry.  Men from his family wore blue into battle in the Civil War.  Her father’s grandfather was shot in both thighs in the battle of Cloyd’s Mountain, Virginia where he lay for three days before being picked up. 

She also spoke with reverence of her father’s younger brother Bob’s bravery in WWII.  After Japanese torpedoes set the carrier U.S.S. Wasp aflame in the Coral Sea, he was among the last men to leave the ship before it sank.  She collected a volume of family letters which told more of that story.  

She lived for a year in Tokyo with her newborn son while her husband served in Korea. She learned to speak some Japanese, formed friendships with her neighbors there, and grew to love Japanese culture.    

During the Vietnam War, she and my father took us to the anti-war demonstrations on Boston Common.  

As she taught us with gravity about American history, she also taught us by word and deed to respect every person as an individual.  She took an interest in everyone’s story, respected everyone’s perspective and was never quick to judge.  

She was devoted to family and to community and to service broadly.  As a translator of Russian literature, she opened new vistas for English-speaking readers.   She worked hard to fully appreciate the words of her authors and translated them with empathy for the human struggles behind the words.   

She imparted to her children a reverence for the founding ideals of the American republic, a recognition of our failure to live up to those ideals, a commitment to service, and most importantly, respect and empathy for every individual. She died as she lived – with grace and courage.

I’m so grateful to all who have taken the time to share thoughts or send condolences. Each comment means a lot to me and to my family.

Published by Will Brownsberger

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

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267 Comments

  1. She sounds like a remarkable women. I lost my Mom last month as well… It is hard when your anchor is gone…

    1. So sorry about your loss. She sounds like a wonderful woman. You and the rest of the family will cherish the family history for a long time, I’m sure.

    2. Your Mother was a remarkable woman. Your career and tribute
      demonstrates her phenominal success in raising a son that you
      are. You certainly have my sympathy at this time.

  2. Will, I am so sorry for your loss – she sounds like a remarkable human being. My thoughts are with you and yours.

  3. Will – sorry for your loss. It sounds like you had a great relationship with your mother, something to always cherish. Sympathies to you and your family.
    re
    -rich

    1. Mr.Browns burger as angry as i always seem i’m so very sorry to hear about your lost you have my deepest condolence and from what i read your mom taught a very good lesson to be learned

  4. This is a beautiful tribute to your mother and perhaps help me understand why you are such an excellent example as an elected official and the role people like you can play when and if they choose to.

  5. Dear Will –
    My deepest condolences. Your mom is amazing and although I am sad for your loss – I can see her shining influence in you and much more.

      1. Dear Will,
        You are your mother’s son and I am grateful for that! As a Russian language and lit student, I also have great admiration for your mother’s academic achievements! So sorry for your loss.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear of your loss, Will. What a life to look back on, though. She clearly gave you a lot of her own values, knowledge and sensibilities. It sounds like she was a remarkable person. Our deepest condolences.

  6. Very sorry for your loss, Will. What a remarkable person and wonderful role model she was. And you listened and learned!

  7. What a wonderful tribute Will. I can see how her spirit will live on in you and your children. I am so sorry for this loss, as we all know how hard it is to lose our parent. Much love to you.

    1. Your mother was a remarkable human being and an inspirational American. Her values and ideals live in you and are reflected in your own exemplary life and courageous political path.

  8. My condolences to the Brownsberger family, Will thank you for sharing a piece of your mother’s legacy.
    Les

  9. Will, thank you for sharing. I am deeply sorry for your loss, and in reading this, see how the example of your mother’s life, her beliefs, and work is reflected in you and the work you do. Sending thoughts for you and your family in this difficult time.

  10. Dear Will
    Thank you for sharing these reflections .What a beautiful testimony to your mom’s wonderful spirit. She must have been so proud and happy that you so effectively live out the values she imparted. We send our sympathy to you and your family . Kathy

  11. I’m so very sorry for your loss. A mother of such grace, wisdom, intelligence and stature is a true gift, not only to her immediate family and children, but to the world. Thank you for sharing this, and sending much love from Jean and Gretchen Dunoyer.

  12. Dear Will and Brownsberger Family,
    I remember meeting your mom and dad at the Winnbrook School many years ago when you were running for Selectman, I believe, Will? Your parents were just lovely..your mom a poised and beautiful woman. Such a loss. We will remember you and your family prayerfully. Merry and Terry

  13. My sincere condolences on the loss of your remarkable mother. She must have been proud to see you serve Massachusetts so well.

  14. Sorry for your loss and what she went through. What a wonderful person she nurtured and raised. A good life and loving family. Many happy memories. May she Rest In Peace.

  15. What a beautiful tribute you’ve shared. We’re all beneficiaries of her intelligence, compassion, and many contributions. May her memory be a blessing to you and your family.

  16. Sorry for your loss Will. It sounds like you inherited much from your mother, and that you were fortunate to have her be such a wonderful and long lived part of your life.

  17. My deepest condoloences to your family and friends. This was so well-written and more importantly moving and imparted a glimpse into how wonderful your mother was to those who didn’t know her.

  18. Your Mom was a courageous woman who taught you well. My deepest sympathies. May you keep always important memories of her. She deserves to be remembered.

  19. We are so sorry for your loss. Your mother was an outstanding women, as the tribute clearly states. How wonderful that you have all those amazing memories and a documented family history .Her legacy lives on.
    With deepest sympathy,
    Pat and Ken Davis

  20. I am so sorry for your loss, Will, especially during this time when the comfort of our loved ones’ presence is more difficult to come by. This is a beautiful tribute to her and her values, which clearly live on in her son.

  21. I’m so sorry for your loss. She sounds amazing, and we are all richer for having had her in our community.

  22. Thank you, Will. Your mother represents everything I love about this country. With the impeachment trial happening now, the contrast between her courage and values and the craven cowardice in the Senate could not be more clear. It’s easy to see where your strength and compassion come from. We are thinking of you.

  23. Dearest Senator Brownsberger, What a beautiful and touching tribute to your beloved mother. It is clear she was an extraordinary person. As is Jewish tradition during these times, I will say may your mother’s memory be a blessing. Wishing you strength and healing to you and your family.
    Paula Rosenstock

  24. I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for your eloquent post regarding your impressive mother.

  25. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story. What an inspiration, and what a beautiful life. So sorry for your loss.

  26. She sounds like a deep, empathetic and authentically good person. How much better life would be if there were more like her. I will pray for her.

  27. Dear Will, I have known Sue for sixty years. Much of the history in your memorial was unknown to me. But the elements I did recognize were precisely true, for which both Carole and I are thankful.

  28. Will, my condolences. While I didn’t know your family history (which is quite remarkable) or your mother’s work, it always was a pleasure seeing her. Your mother always seemed like such an upbeat, positive force. Along with many others I will miss her.

  29. Heartfelt condolences, sir; and in humble respect and gratitude for your words full of love for your mom. Che

  30. Will,

    Sending my deepest condolences. Your tribute is so beautifully and lovingly written.
    My sympathy to you and your family.
    Tom Jones

  31. You honor your mother with this beautiful memorial. And when it’s hard, remember, she will always be with you, that is the magic of mothers. My deepest sympathies to your whole family–sounds like a life well lived and loved, with lessons for us all.

  32. Will, I am so sorry you lost your mother! She sounds like an amazing woman. Your words help to explain a bit why you are in public office.
    How wonderful that she researched your history & left you with such personal & historical family stories. Sending you & your family my sympathy-

  33. Will, I am so sorry to learn this news. Over the years, I have enjoyed running into Susan as I went about my life. I would always stop to chat with her whether at march or a meeting or in the street or on the T. Another hole left unfillable. My condolences to all of you.

  34. I am so sorry for your loss. Losing your mother is so incredibly painful. It is clear that her spirit will live within you, your work, and your studies of history. She sounds remarkable. I hope memories of her bring comfort. I am thinking of you and your family.

  35. Senator Brownsberger,
    This is a compelling tribute and her life and legacy an inspiration. You have my deepest sympathy.

  36. Will, so sorry for your loss. I remember your beautiful mom way back when I did work on her Russell Ave home. Like my mom she was a gigantic influence on your life. May she rest in pease. Rich Hickey

  37. Will, I am so sorry for your loss. No matter how old we are when a parent passes, the loss is deep. Your tribute to her is beautiful and you have good memories of your Mother and a family history to hang onto.

  38. My wife Eleni and I present our most sincere condolences to you and to all your family.
    A remarkable lady, a role model to all mothers and human beings, May her soul rest in the peace of the Lord.

  39. Will,
    I’m so sorry to hear of your mother’s death. Your essay has added many new admirers (like me) to the family and friends who mourn her passing. What a great woman. Thanks for sharing.

  40. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute of your Mom. I imagine you both having had wonderful conversations. She has certainly left a beautiful legacy and I’m sad for your loss.

  41. What an incredible woman. This beautifully written tribute reflects her influence on you. Her legacy will live on. My sincere condolences on the loss of your mom. It is never easy to lose a parent.

  42. Will, I am really sorry for your loss. I saw your mother last year and indeed – she was a really gracious and warm person. My deepest sympathy for you and your family.

  43. Senator – Really sorry for your loss. Thank you for taking the time to write/share this beautiful tribute to your mother. Sounds like she was a wonderful human being; empathetic, patriotic and a remarkable person. Sending you and your family prayers.

  44. I met your mother when you were first elected to the Senate. In addition to all you have said, she was an elegant lady. May your grief be short and your memories be sweet.

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