CRAFTSBURY – Eva Brett Church, 91, beloved mother of Shauna, John, and Penelope, passed on Friday, August 12, at the Craftsbury Community Care Center, her Vermont home for the past four years, a home she frequently announced she felt very blessed to have found.
Born in Claremorris, County Mayo, Ireland in 1930 to Ellen Forde Brett and M. Antony “Anto” Brett, Eva grew up on the family estate surrounded by the mountains, trees, stone walls and sheep she loved so well, and elephants, as her father would allow them to be pastured on Carradoyne grounds whenever the circus passed through!
An adventurer at heart, Mom went to London for nurses training at St. John and St. Elizabeth Hospital where she won the coveted John Lamb Prize for nursing excellence, the first of many awards gained in her career for helping those in need. After meeting our father in the emergency room there (he was a London bobby at the time), they emigrated to Alberta, Canada, where Dad worked on the design/build of the DEW system and Mom worked with the indigenous populations, an honor she recounted often in our childhood. After returning to England to have Shauna, the three moved to New York and New Jersey where John and Penelope were born. Dad’s career brought the family to Houston, Texas, in 1964 and much later to Austin.
She was a wonderful mother, immersing us early in culture at the Houston Jones Hall, summer programs at museums, individual Days Out, and anything else she could think of to “broaden our minds.” We were introduced to Scrabble as toddlers and heard a constant refrain of “Look it up!” when we asked what something meant. On family road trips through Texas, she would research local history and force a stop at all historical markers so we would understand the local culture and perspective. (As we grew older we dubbed them “hysterical markers.” Mom pretended she was not amused, but actually she was.) She celebrated Christmas like no other, filling stockings as tall as us to the brim and beyond with amazing items fine-tuned for each, some sent from Ireland by Gran or Auntie Mary. She might occasionally mix up who liked dark chocolate and who didn’t; we’d just laugh and say “this must be for you” and switch.
Watching Mom be swept away by a Mozart French horn concerto was a lesson in pure joy.
Always mission-driven, in her mid-50s Eva returned to school and earned her Master’s in Health Administration at St. Edward’s University in Austin. She worked to improve health care access and support through programs at Holy Cross and Seton hospitals, creating relationships maintained right up to her passing.
A fierce advocate for the elderly, Eva became the first state ombudsman for nursing homes for central Texas, then went on to help create and build such groundbreaking programs as Austin Groups for the Elderly (now AGE of Central Texas), North Central Caregivers, Drive-A-Senior, and the A.G.E. Caregiver Resource Center. She long served on the Central Texas Interagency Council (now Area Agency on Aging), fostering collaboration between like-minded programs. Working with Texas Adult Protective Services and Texas Dept. of Aging and Disability Services, she brought Validation Therapy to Texas and became an expert in Alzheimer’s and dementia support.
Ironically it was Alzheimer’s that was to claim her own independence, and it was her own daughter who was to benefit from the caregiver support programs she helped establish. It was Mom’s expertise and that of her eldercare colleagues that allowed us to understand that Craftsbury Community Care Center was Mom’s solution when she could no longer stay in her home. Call it serendipity, call it karma, call it Divine Hand, we simply know that a very apprehensive woman walked through the Care Center doors and felt instantly safe. “I’ll be safe here,” she said. And she was.
We are forever grateful to the amazing staff and volunteers at Craftsbury Community Care Center for their compassion and commitment to active, dignified supported living for elders. Mom spent her final four years in joy and contentment, among trees and music and friends and fun, and her final days with the care and support of skilled people who loved her. And that’s exactly how it should be. We cannot thank you enough.
Eva was predeceased by her parents and her beloved brother, Hugh Brett. She is survived by her three children, Shauna Church of Brooklyn, N.Y., John Church of Austin, Texas, and Penelope Doherty of Craftsbury; her sister Mary (Eamonn) Murphy of Templecarrig and Dublin, Ireland, and sister Julie (Brian) Chisholm of Watford, UK; much-loved niece and nephews: Paul, Brian, and Rory Murphy of Ireland, Joanna Brett of New York and David Brett of UK, and Phillip and Richard Chisholm of UK; many loving cousins and childhood friends, including Imelda Vahey Bush of UK; special “daughters” Patty Schick Gannon of Boston and Deirdre Darrouzet of Austin; and friends and colleagues too numerous to mention, but who all loved her and helped us so much in the past ten years as we navigated this difficult disease.
A remembrance service is planned August 31, at Craftsbury Community Care Center for residents, staff, and friends (if weather permits). Eva will be interred in the family plot in Ireland in September, followed in October by a memorial Mass in Austin. Please make memorial contributions to Craftsbury Community Care Center Building Fund, 1784 E. Craftsbury Rd, Craftsbury, VT 05826, in honor of the sitting porch Mom loved and to help others in need of safe and dignified support; or to the elder care organization of your choice.
Thank you, Mom, for the arts, the music, the laughter, and above all, the love. We miss you so much but are thankful you went in peace and are now with Gran and Uncle Hugh.