Tim Brennan Memorial
September 10, 2022
Umass Campus Center
Good morning. I’m Emily Brennan, Tim’s oldest daughter. On behalf of my family, I’d like to thank you all for coming today. We’ve waited over two years for this large group to safely gather, and we are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to celebrate my father in person today.
Most of you in the room knew my father through your adjacent careers. It’s no secret that my dad was completely devoted to his life’s work of nurturing and improving the Pioneer Valley. But despite his very public career, he was a deeply introverted, private person. Today I’d like to describe the special person he was outside of work, the person few people really got to know.
Picture a man decompressing in the kitchen at the end of a long day. He’s still in his work clothes, but his sleeves are rolled up, the last sips of a glass of wine within reach. Local NPR DJ Tom Reeny’s jazz progam is playing a familiar tune, or is that a UMass basketball game broadcast that hums in the background? He’s simultaneously doing the dishes and packing school lunches for his daughters. He won’t retire until every crumb is wiped off the counter and his kingdom is clean.
That’s the dad I knew and loved.
My father embodied diligence, with his own unique, neurotic flair. He woke up every morning without an alarm clock. He cleaned and vacuumed the house from top to bottom every Saturday. His enthusiastic participation in housework would become a cornerstone of my feminist ideals. He kept both an impeccable checkbook register AND logged his mileage every time he went to the gas pump. Did I mention neurotic flair? Memorably, he recorded every spot the Easter Bunny hid an egg so we wouldn’t be burdened with a smelly situation. He left cookie crumbs and a gnawed stub of carrot on Santa’s plate. I like to imagine him artistically chiseling at a carrot on Christmas Eve to convince his kids that Rudolph enjoyed their root vegetable offering.
My father was one of the most generous and humble people I’ve ever met. He enjoyed zipping around in a nice car, but otherwise did not lead a flashy lifestyle. He regularly donated money to less fortunate people, and we often had pictures of the children he was sponsoring hanging on our fridge. My dad was known in our family for being an amazing gift-giver. He picked out clothing for women with the confidence of a rock star! Whether it was a book of poetry or a piece of art, he always put the utmost care into selecting the right gift and presenting it with complete modesty. Material gifts aside, my dad’s generosity was most moving when it came to giving people chances to fulfill their potential. For instance, he entrusted me to take over his entire backyard when I expressed interest in starting a flower farm at the age of 30. Six years later, I am an entrepreneur. I admired his ability to give without taking credit or trying to control outcomes. He empowered me to explore meaningful work, and to build a life that reflects my values.
My dad had his idealist inconsistencies, too. He loved good food, but as some of you may have noticed, he only ate one meal a day. He enthusiastically supported local farmers by purchasing a farm share, but he also enjoyed the convenience of preparing a Trader Joe’s packaged kale salad (while the beautiful organic produce wilted in the crisper.) He had little time to read for pleasure, but he was stubbornly determined to keep print journalism alive by subscribing to every periodical in North America. Within his closest relationships, he shared his most vulnerable thoughts by inscribing a book he’d picked out for you, or in a handwritten letter, but he struggled to express his emotions face to face. My dad was a planner, but as it turns out, he did not plan to age, much less to die.
In some ways, my dad’s exit on March 12, 2020 was the ultimate Irish goodbye. He left his earthly existence at the beginning of a global pandemic and on the tails of his retirement; at a moment when attention was reliably off him and he could slip away unnoticed. When he was taken from us, it was comically in character and horribly unfair to those he left behind. I wish I could have had more time to get to know the elusive man who was my father. I was looking forward to learning what made him tick in retirement.
Last October, on a perfect autumn day, my sister Katie, stepmother Kathy and I went up in a small engine plane to scatter my dad’s ashes over the valley he loved so dearly. We could see the Connecticut River he cleaned, the bike paths and railways he championed, the educational institutions he taught at, and the home and family he built in North Hadley. It struck me that my dad could be best understood through the platitude “actions speak louder than words”. Wherever I looked I could see his work and ideals infused into the landscape. My father’s actions survive him and offer comfort to the people who miss him so dearly. Today we are gathered celebrating the legendary Tim Brennan. He was a humble advocate of his community and he never would have allowed us to honor him like this while he was alive! So let’s commemorate the life of my father joyfully today. And I hope you will join me in continuing to remember him when you hear the drone of a plane, the whistle of a train, or experience a rainbow in the Pioneer Valley.