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.

267 replies on “In Memory of Susan Campbell Brownsberger”

  1. So sorry to hear this sad news. Your mother was a remarkable person, and a great neighbor. She will be missed by all.

  2. My condolences on your loss of your mother. She was a remarkable woman and mother and she taught you well the lessons of history and life.

  3. Oh, Will. So sorry for your loss. Lost my Mom many years ago. There’s nothing quite like it. A beautiful tribute; she’d love it, I’m sure.

  4. I am so sorry to hear about your loss, Will. It sounds like your mother left an amazing legacy and was truly a special person.

  5. Senator Brownsberger: I am truly sorry for your loss. A mother is a very special person in our lives. Your late Mom Susan sounds like quite a remarkable woman. Her accomplishments in life are outstanding. May she rest in peace and may you and your family enjoy wonderful memories of a very special woman.

  6. I’m so very sorry for your loss, Will…your mother was a remarkable woman. You are clearly her son, inheriting her love and respect for humankind. You have written a lovely tribute to her memory and you serve that memory well. I hope those memories will help guide you through this difficult time.

  7. Will, my deepest sympathies to you and your family. I had the pleasure and honor of meeting you mom on many occasions, as she was a proud and devoted supporter of your political endeavors (and I’m sure of much more). She was so gracious and down-to-earth.

  8. I recall sitting next to your mother, years ago, at a Watertown Children’s Theater production in which one of her grandchildren was performing and we had the most delightful of conversations! (It probably helped that I told her what a fan I am of yours.) Your words above correspond with everything I experienced before and in-between the acts. Will, I am so sorry for your loss, but very much appreciate your rounding out our understanding of her and her values. She is inspirational. Thank you for sharing her story with us.

  9. My deepest sympathy, Will. Gail and I were proud to know Susan, are proud to know Carl, and equally proud to have you as our State Senator.
    One thing you forgot to mention about Susan: she was also a superb dancer, with whom I loved to dance, but also whom I loved while she danced with her husband. What an elegant pair!

  10. Will, I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your mother’s story and allowing us to now be a part of it. Her grace and courage are so inspirational and it is plain to see that they live on in you. Sending caring and healing thoughts to you and your family.

  11. Condolences for a profound loss, and thank you for describing so well how she parented so well.

  12. Sincere condolences for the loss of your mother, Senator Brownsberger. May her memory live on through you and yours. Your blog posts are always informative and authentic. Thank you for writing them.

  13. Hi Will,
    I am so sorry for your loss.
    This is a beautiful testimonial to your mother. She sounds like an amazing person.
    Pancreatic cancer took my mother 25 years ago. From the time of her diagnosis to her passing was 4 weeks! Pancreatic cancer is a particularly vicious form of cancer, (not that any are nice.)
    Since her passing, I think if my mother every day, and often dream of her.
    But after a period of grief and pain, the daily memory , and occasional dream , becomes a pleasant visit.
    Good luck as you adjust to this loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you.

  14. Dear Will,
    Ram, the kids and I are very sorry for your loss, but so honored to learn more about Ms. Susan. How generous of you to share her history, so aligned to the best that this country — that you serve so well — has to offer. We are grateful and humbled. Our love and prayers are with you and your family.
    Maria, Ram, Ravi, Diego and Isabel (and Jairam in memoriam)

  15. Will – I am so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute. My heartfelt condolences to you and your family.

  16. I am very sorry to hear this news, Will. And I very much appreciate your thoughts and reflections about your mom. I was only in presence once or twice, but I would have enjoyed knowing her. It’s clear now where much of your passion, intelligence, integrity and moral compass come from.

  17. Will,
    What a beautiful way to remember your mother. I’m so sorry to hear that she is no longer among us. My sincere sympathy, Sandra

  18. Will,
    My condolences on the passing of your mother. She appeared to live a rich and fascinating life. The lessons she taught you as a child have carried forward in your life as a public servant. Her legacy will continue through your loved ones and continued good works. My deepest sympathies to you and your family during this time.

  19. Sending you strength and peace as your grieve the loss of your cherished mother, Senator Brownsberger and family.

  20. Will, I am so sorry for your and your family’s loss. Your words provide a truly lovely testament to her life and deeds, and what a remarkable woman she quite clearly was. Her legacy lives on through her family, your words, and all of your hard work.

  21. She seems to have been a wonderful person, Will. I wish we could have known her. We’re so sorry for for your loss.

  22. Will, thank you for sharing so much of who your mother was. What an incredible woman! And how proud she must have been of you for continuing to carry out the values that were so important to her. My deep sympathies to you and your family. Eleanor

  23. What an amazing tribute to your mother, Will, and what an incredible person she was. So much to grieve and to celebrate…knowing that her ideals and values are infused and live on in you. Take care.

  24. I remember how kind and welcoming your mother was when I helped out with your selectman campaign all those years ago. I was feeling like an outsider when I first joined the team, but I think your mother sensed that, and always made the effort to reach out to me and make me feel welcome in a quiet understated way.

  25. Will – I am so inspired by your tribute to your mother and am forever grateful for how she has inspired YOU to such just, compassionate, equitable, rigorous and dedicated public service. How little did I know about her background when I worked alongside her for hours during your many campaigns with such admiration for her grace and dedication. I send my deepest condolences and prayers for you and your family and will now pray to your mother who is surely in Heaven! – Pat Dinneen

  26. Will,
    What an amazing woman.
    You were a wonderful son and her legacy lives on in all your remarkable work on our behalf. Thank you so much.

  27. Thank you, Will, for sharing your Mother’s story. How blessed we are to have you, and you to have had your Mother.
    We send our love and caring to you and your Family.

    Mary and Liz

  28. Will, I’m so sorry for your loss, but clearly your mother’s spirit and her legacy live on in you.

  29. Thank you for sharing details of your mother’s life and outlook with us. She had a humble dignity and grace that was so admirable. I was fortunate to chat with her occasionally at events, but I didn’t know much about your family, like the time spent time in Japan and her lifelong promotion of an active humane philosophy. I am grateful she was alive. Please, let your father know and remember how many friends and colleagues you have to rely on.

  30. I am so sorry for your loss. She certainly seemed to be an amazing woman who left a positive impact on the world.

  31. Will,
    So sorry for your loss. Your mother was always an inspiration to all around her. A gracious, quiet force that encouraged us all to be better.
    Susan Griffin

  32. Will, I’m so sorry to hear of the loss of your mother. I met her a few times, years ago, through your sister and your nieces. I remember her as tall, loving and gracious. May your memories of her nourish you through the years.

  33. Dear Will –
    My heart goes out to you and your family. Your mother sounds like a wonderfully stimulating and strong-thinking woman – a model for inculcating deep humane values and respect for American traditions, yet understanding the reality of the world in which
    we live and must work to improve. I clearly see her influence in you and what you strive to achieve.
    May her memory be a blessing.

  34. Your mother was a remarkable human being and an inspirational American. Her values and ideals live in you and are reflected in your exemplary life and courageous political path. We find strength in what she left behind.

  35. Dear Will, My condolences to you, your wife, daughters, your dear father and all your family. You write beautifully about your mother. I just saw her couple of times but she always was so friendly and kind to me. Even at first blush, she exuded grace, class and shining warmth. And, my, she and your father could cut it on the dance floor. They were a true team. You are very fortunate to have had their examples in your life. No wonder you’re an honest politician. Your mother (and father) wouldn’t have it any other way.

  36. My deepest condolences on your loss. Her amazing story lives on through the great work you are doing today. Thanks for sharing her story with us.

  37. Fortunate you were to have such a compassionate and intelligent mother and we are fortunate to have a Will Brownsberger who carries on such a legacy.

  38. Will, Your mother was an extraordinarily lovely woman of great character and intellect, principle and judgment. It was a privilege to
    share a half century of friendship and love with her and your father.
    We extend our condolence to you.

  39. Dear Will and Family.
    Thank you for sharing your mom’s wonderful story.
    I was fortunate to meet your mom at one of your campaign stand-outs, She was so gracious, kind and upbeat,
    Our Best wishes to you and your family,
    Suzanne and David Bloore

  40. Losing a mother splinters an irreplaceable primal tie….
    My deepest condolences to you and your family

  41. My deepest sympathies. Thank you for sharing your tribute of your remarkable, inspiring mother.

  42. Dear Will,
    I am touched by your words. Clearly your mother has been a great influence.
    Now she will be an inspiration for the many of us with whom you have shared her memories with.
    When we better understand ourselves and our families, we can better understand and relate to others around us…. and when we better understand those around us we better understand ourselves. It’s a nice circle that way.
    With respect and care.

  43. She sounds like a true beautiful woman. She gave you and the people a foundation of truth and honesty it sounds from your words. It will be hard to let her go I’m sure. Remember her laughter as I have found that to bring a smile back when it is most needed. You are her legacy and what a wonderful legacy I might add.

  44. Will, so sorry for your loss. It is always difficult to lose a parent but this pandemic has made it more so. She certainly was a remarkable woman and fortunate to have a son like you. You embody her true beliefs, something that every parent wishes to pass on to their children

  45. Thank you for sharing your mother’s life with us. We really never know someone until we read an obituary. She planted in you a passion which makes you a great leader. Our sincerest sympathies and heartfelt condolences. She was a remarkable woman. Thank you for sharing glimpses into her remarkable contributions and life. Rev. Joanne and Nelson Hartunian and Family

  46. Dear Will, thank you for letting us know. Our thoughts are with you and your family. I don’t think I saw your mother more than twice, and I never spoke more than a few words, but I do remember her as strikingly beautiful even in what must have been her eighties. But I am glad to learn a bit about her on a less superficial level.

  47. What a beautiful tribute, Will. Your success in serving all of us and supporting democracy is a fitting tribute to her and her life. Our condolences.

Comments are closed.