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. Will, I am so sorry about the loss of your mother. No matter how old or how sick she was, it is always very difficult to lose a parent. She truly sounds like an amazing woman and she taught you well. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree! We appreciate your knowledge, your caring, and all you do for your constituents. Please be sure to take a little time for yourself to mourn her.

  2. Thank you for sharing about your dear mother Senator Brownberger. I could tell by your words that she taught and led with the goals of equality and peace for those around her. Your family will be in my thoughts and prayers.

  3. Thank yu for sharing this Will. Your mother sounds like a wonderful person. You were lucky to have her.

  4. Will, what a beautiful tribute to your mom. Although I only met her once, I could even then (you were running for Select Board) tell that she was proud of you, and the good you are doing.

  5. Will,
    So sorry for your loss. Your Mother was a truly remarkable women.
    May she rest in Peace! Shalom.
    Larry and Janet Macdonald

  6. So very sorry for your loss. What a beautiful tribute for a remarkable woman. May her spirit comfort you, and memories bring you peace.

  7. You have so many reasons to be proud of her, Will. One you didn’t mention – she was also elegant and very beautiful.

    She had to leave, like all of us will have to one day, but she has left a great legacy in all who live because of her, or otherwise benefited from her presence on this Earth. Mourn her, but also rejoice in knowing that you have been very fortunate.

    1. This must be such a difficult time for you and your family. All of us who lost our mothers know what you are going through – but words seem so inadequate to express it. My heartfelt condolences.

  8. I am sorry for you and your family’s loss, we are thinking about you. Thank you for giving us this opportunity to learn about your mother. It is never too late to get to know and appreciate someone special, thanks to loved ones sharing their memories with others.

  9. Dear Will, I am so very sorry to hear about your loss, your tribute to your mother is incredible. I feel grateful to have known your parents for many years, Susan was always warm, thoughtful, caring, brilliant and beautiful, whatever she touched she was fully engaged. I remember how much she loved to dance and I can still see her on the dance floor at special events, with your dad, doing the Tango together like true professional artists. Please know that my thoughts are with you and your family at this very sad time, may her memory be a blessing.

  10. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    I am sorry for your loss and the pain this is causing you and your family.

    I do think your mom would greatly appreciate the poetic words you used to remember her here.

  11. Senator Will ….Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to you and your family …Moms stay in a very special part of our hearts even after they pass. …From when I have heard you talk about your mother, she sounded like she was a great woman. …No one can replace a mom, but God can comfort a grieving heart. …Thank you for sharing.! Mel & Tina Poindexter

  12. We appreciate so much your fine tribute to your mother. Like yours, our family has historic ties to the underground railroad. Your mother was an accomplished woman, and thanks for sharing her life with us. Dave and Alice Kidder

  13. Dear Will, I am so sad and sorry to hear about the loss of your beloved mother. Losing a mother is one of the hardest things we do in this world. Thank you for writing about her and sharing her with us. What a wonderful, brave, truth-telling woman. How graced and blessed you were to have her with you on this plane and for so long.

  14. My sincere condolences to you and your family. Thank you for sharing her story; sharing the values and morals she led her life with that have inspired and influenced you.

  15. Sorry for your loss; your words are a very touching tribute to your mom and you are a reflection of her. I can definitely see the very positive influence she has on you and this world is better for it. InchAllah I will definitely remember her in my prayers. Stay strong and contact me if you need anything.

  16. Sincere condolences Will. You have a remarkable lineage that you perpetuate admirably. You are a reflection of her and an example to us all.

  17. Dear Senator Brownsberger,
    What a remarkable lady your mother was, during her life and as she approached her death. You were so fortunate to have such a wonderful mother and she must have been so happy to have such an admirable son.
    What better gift for a parent?

  18. Will,

    It is always heartbreaking to lose a mother, but your mom seems especially sad to let go. I am sure she was always proud of you.

  19. My condolences. Your words are of a loving son, and give me inspiration to complete the family history I am writing.

  20. Susan set the standard. I loved reading this family history and knowing that your mother died with the same determination and grace that she lived her life. I send you and your family my sympathy and best wishes.

  21. What a lovely tribute you shared about your mother, Will. I am truly sorry for your loss, and am sure you and your family will miss her. She left you all quite a legacy, one to emulate and continue in this and future generations of Brownsbergers. I hope you will find comfort in the assurance that she lives on, in a better place, where she will continue her good works and achieve even greater than she achieved in mortality.

  22. Will-
    People have to be taught to hate or love, to be driven to participate in life or sit on the sidelines.
    You were blessed with a mother who was a wonderful teacher.
    My deepest condolences for your loss.

  23. Dear Will, Our sincere sympathy to you, Carolyn, your dad, and your entire family on the passing of your wonderful mother. Bob and I have such fond memories of meeting your mom (and dad) at your campaigns, starting with your first campaign to be elected as a Belmont Selectmen. During every campaign, your mom was always so gracious, pleasant, and so happy to do whatever needed to be done. May the many wonderful memories you have of Sarah Campbell Brownsberger – a very remarkable wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, friend, and campaign assistant – bring comfort to all of you during this very sad time.

  24. Senator,
    I am so sorry for your loss. Your memories will live forever. This is a great tribute to your mother. The historical remembrance is so important not only to you and your family, but also to those who read it.

  25. Oh, Will, I’m so sorry! I met your mother a few times, and she was both lively and lovely, great to talk to, and so proud of you. I can see she passed her values on to you. Thank you for sharing a little bit about her and your family’s history.

  26. Will–my deep condolences on your mother’s death. Your beautiful tribute sheds a bright light on her amazing character and accomplishments but also on your commitment to justice and a better life for individuals and their communities. I am sorry I did not know her. I will look for her translations and I will keep you and your family in my thoughts and prayer.

  27. Dear Will,
    So sorry for the loss of your mom. I feel fortunate to have known your mom growing up as a kid in the neighborhood and then teaching your mom and dad ballroom dance. Susan was a gracious, beautiful, elegant, courageous woman and wonderful inspiration to many. A beautiful tribute to your mom. Her teaching and example are reflected in you, Will, the great leader and Senator that you are. My condolences to your family.

  28. Wil, We grieve with you for your loss and rejoice with you that you had such an inspirational mother. Her spirit lives on in your entire family.

  29. What a moving tribute to an extraordinary woman. So beautiful and meaningful on so many levels. As my dad always said, ‘the apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree’. In this case, that is so. Thank you for sharing this with us and thank you for the work you do every day. May her memory be a blessing.

  30. Will, I too commiserate with you for your loss. I know that terrible disease, and it is a mercy to be released from its effects. Your mother must have been very proud of you, and justifiably so.

  31. Dear Senator,
    Your mother left you and all around her a wonderful legacy. What a truly extraordinary human being. “May her memory be for a blessing”. My sincere condolences to you.

  32. Will, thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute with us. It reminded me of Lincoln’s words, “All that I ever am and hope to be, I owe to my angel mother.” Thinking of you.

  33. Will,
    Sending our condolences. We remember your mother well as our neighbor for so many years. We knew about many of her admirable qualities and learned so much more from your beautiful tribute.

  34. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your mother and to your family heritage of respect for America’s highest values. I am sorry for your loss. I met your mother when she rang my doorbell while campaigning for you. You gave your constituents a gift by sharing this sense of your family’s values with them. Your mother’s spirit will live on in in the wider community as a result.
    All best wishes.

  35. Will,
    I am sorry for your loss. This is a wonderful tribute.
    My father also often recited “Barbara Frietchie.” He served during WWII stateside teaching radar, then new technology. He too was adamently opposed to the Vietnam war.

  36. Your words share so much love and appreciation for the wonderful person your mother was. Very best wishes to you and your family during this difficult time.

  37. Beautiful eulogy and remembrance, You are following in her footsteps as you understand the importance of history to address social justice and equity.

  38. So sorry to hear of your loss. But a timely reminder that the only really important thing that we leave behind is the life we have led.

  39. So very sorry for your loss. What a wonderful woman your mother was, and she obviously taught you well through both words and example.

  40. My condolences to you and your family at this difficult time. She was truly a remarkable person. But I shouldn’t be surprised because, as noted elsewhere here, the apple indeed doesn’t fall far from the tree. She lives on in you & the great work you do.

  41. Dear Senator Brownsberger,

    My deepest condolences on the passing of your mother. Your account of her life reveals a truly remarkable woman. You were fortunate to be her son.

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