Obituary for Lillian Brower
Lillian Suggs Brower, age 96, passed away peacefully in her sleep during the morning of Wednesday, February 22, 2017 at WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, NC. While her mind remained sharp, her loving heart remained strong, and her will to live persisted, her body could not go on. She was prepared, both mentally and spiritually, to move on to a better place where she will forever be young and will continue being the strong, independent, beautiful, and loving person that she was in life. As a school teacher for 45 years, “Mrs. Brower” made a positive influence on thousands of students in all grade levels as well as with her fellow educators, always seeing the goodness in people and helping them find the best in themselves. Generous to a fault, she never met a person that she wasn’t quick to help and support in any way that she could.
Lillian is now joyfully reunited with her husband John Clifford Brower and her daughter Karen Darroch, who preceded her in death, and with her parents Winfrie and Bessie Suggs and her five deceased siblings: Leo, Walter, Roy, Janet, and Franklin (“Dale”). Left to cherish her memory and celebrate her life are surviving sons John (Skip) Brower II and Bryan Brower and wife Shaye; grandchildren Donna Yip-Young and husband Mike, Bonnie Lopez, Daniel Austen and wife Caroline, John Brower III, and Yvonne Parham and husband Bobby; great grandchildren Lillie Yip-Young, Brandon Lopez, Calie and Cameron Austen, and Aurik Lamont; son-in-law Al Darroch; and step grandsons Charles and Christopher Blair.
Lillian lived her life by the motto: “Live, Laugh, and Love”.
Born at home in Goldsboro NC on October 31, 1920, Lillian was never issued a birth certificate and so she “fudged” her age for many years, or would even refuse to reveal it. Up until recently, pretty much the only time you would see a flash of anger cross Lillian’s face was if anyone brought up her age or birthday. But over the last few months, she decided that she was proud of her 96 years and would brag about it to anyone who brought up her age.
Lillian’s family resided in Morganton, NC during her childhood, but during her high school years her family moved to a farm in Apex. Being someone who always loved socializing and made friends easily, she hated the isolation of farm life and determined that, when she could make her own choices, she would never live in the country again (and she never did!).
With four brothers and one sister, Lillian distinguished herself in the family with her intelligence, drive, and independence. She was class valedictorian in both high school and college, was one of the first (if not the first) females to graduate with three degrees from what was then Appalachian State Teacher’s College. She was so committed to her education that when her college sweetheart began to be intimidated by her doing better than he could in class she didn’t even think of backing off, which ended up with them breaking up. This was an early sign of the brilliance, strength and independence she demonstrated throughout her life, never allowing anyone to use her gender to hinder her personal or career growth.
With her intelligence and drive, Lillian could have had any career she chose (even in those days). While in college she considered continuing on to either law school or even med school, but she did not want to place additional financial burdens on her father, who funded her college education. Her strong desire to help others led her to a life-long career in teaching. She was invited on multiple occasions to join Mensa International, an organization limited to those having an IQ at or above the 98th percentile (about 130 and up), but she always declined, saying she didn’t need to belong to a club to know how smart she was.
While at Appalachian, this very attractive, popular, and very smart coed “played the field” until she met a handsome young soldier who was in Ashville to recover from malaria contracted in the south Pacific during his deployment with the 13th Air Force Division. It was apparently love at first sight because “Johnnie” Brower proposed to her on the night they met and, with the urgency generated by the war, she accepted three days later and they were married within the next three days. Not long after, “Lil” and “Cliff”, as they later called each other, started a family. Their first son John II (AKA “Skip”) and their only daughter Karen came first, with second son Bryan, apparently a bit of a surprise, coming along about six years later after the family had moved to Cliff’s home town of Reading, Pennsylvania and Lillian had begun her teaching career.
As a result of Cliff’s retail management career, the family moved south in the early sixties, first to Fayetteville, then to Garner, then to Cary, and finally to Raleigh. But Lillian’s strong commitment to the proper education of her children made her always insist that the family not move during a school year, and not while one of her children was in high school. Lillian often allowed Cliff to have his way, but this was one of the rules she rarely allowed him to break.
Although she always appreciated classical music (her mother Bessie was an accomplished classical musician) and in some ways had an “old soul”, Lillian’s keen intellect kept her interested in current events as well as the latest trends, styles and technologies. Lillian was one of the very first teachers to use a word processor when they first came out, and then moved on to a computer as soon as they became available for home use. She continued to use her computer (and her cell phone) up until less than a year ago, including using it to publish her own book popular quotations (“Mrs. Brower’s Sayings”) a few years ago that is available today on Amazon.com. Her favorite quotation reveals the source of her enduring strength: “Fear knocked at the door, Faith answered – Nobody there”.
Having Halloween as her birthday, Lillian never hesitated to “play the witch card”, but she was always the good witch, using her magical powers to remove warts upon request, to “hypnotize” someone to stop their hiccups, or “tell their fortune” using her keen observational skills, sharp memory, and intellect to amaze others with the accuracy of her “powers”.
During her long tenure as a school teacher she taught pretty much every grade and subject, including gifted and talented classes, with the exception math, which she found boring. When called upon to teach French, she developed a love for the French culture, and became very fluent in the language. She was a positive, supportive, and most importantly, a patient teacher who saw the good in every student, even those who seemed hopelessly incorrigible, including son Skip and daughter Karen, who had her as a teacher and hated every day of it (son Bryan got lucky, Lillian was transferred to his 9th grade school the year he went on to high school). Former students were constantly recognizing her long after they had her as a teacher and always took the time to stop and thank her for being a great teacher. Although she had retired more than twenty years previous, this happened as recently as just a few months before her passing when she was having breakfast at a local restaurant.
Lillian loved to travel. She saw much of the United States and Canada, both as part of her continuing education classes and (mostly) during vacation travels with Cliff. Later, after her retirement from 45 years as a teacher, she traveled the world with her close friend Viola March (now deceased) including extended excursions to Hawaii, Alaska, and Europe (with France being her favorite trip).
Lillian was always there for her family, friends, students, neighbors, or anyone needing advice, guidance, or help of most any kind, including financial assistance when necessary, even when repayment was unlikely or even not expected. She was so committed to helping others that for several years she worked as a social worker during the summer months between school years, helping those less fortunate find a better life. When Cliff fell ill during the final years of his life she insisted on caring for him while still working full-time as a school teacher, utilizing home health aides only while she was working. This was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausting for her for a long time, but she never complained and never asked for a break from this grueling schedule.
After 42 years of marriage, and after Cliff suffered five severe heart attacks, the love of her life passed away in 1987. But 22 years later at the age of 88 Lillian reconnected with a widower that she had known many years ago in Pennsylvania. Bud Rabold provided valuable companionship for Lillian and later also became a dedicated (although sometimes over-eager) care-giver as Lillian’s health declined during the last 12-24 months of her life. Shortly before Lillian moved into an assisted living facility Bud returned to Pennsylvania to be closer to his family and he passed away in his sleep about a month later, about three months prior to Lillian’s passing.
It was in late 2015, at the age of 95, with Lillian still very healthy for her age, still driving, still fiercely independent, and still as mentally sharp as ever, that she was severely injured as the result of a fall. When other complication arose her doctors informed the family that she would not survive. But her will to live was strong, and despite the odds she surprised virtually everyone (except herself) and improved to the point where she was released from the hospital. Still believing her demise was imminent, Lillian was placed in home-based hospice care. But Lillian was not ready to go. She miraculously continued her recovery and regained most of her independence, and she was released from the hospice program a few months later. During the following months her companion Bud, her son Skip, and her granddaughter-in-law Caroline provided her with the outstanding support and assistance Lillian needed to enjoy living in her own home. Then in the fall of 2016 she fell getting out of bed and broke her hip. Again, few senior citizens survive this injury, much less one of her age, but she had surgery to repair her fractured femur and once again bounced back, although now she needed a walker and did not fully recover to her previous baseline. She again returned home, with her son Skip now being her primary caregiver. Her long history of being a strong, independent fighter had brought her through another crisis, but although she was deeply appreciative of the care provided by Skip during this time, she recognized that she needed more professional health care assistance than was possible at home and also needed faster access to medical professionals in the event of an emergency. So she made the decision (at the age of 96) to move out of her home and into an assisted living facility in November 2016..
During the three months she spent at Sunrise Senior Living in Raleigh she continued to maintain as much independence as possible, moving around the facility by herself with her walker, often roaming the halls in the middle of the night. She even signed the papers for her own home equity loan to cover the cost of getting her house ready for sale, reading each and every page from top to bottom (sometimes twice, even the duplicate copies), much to the chagrin of the closing lawyer and to the great amusement of Bryan, who handled all 30 or so papers to her one at a time. The staff at Sunrise took an immediate liking to this friendly, funny, and smart “little ole lady” who greeted everyone with a smile.
Her strong faith in God prevented her from being afraid of death. When faced with colon cancer about a decade before her passing, she was always confident she would survive. Not content with just making a will, she planned out her own funeral arrangements years in advance and left step-by-step instructions (with an index and all legal documents, insurance policy information and financial records) for what to do after her passing. She assembled this information in binder she called her Rainbow Book (with “Going with the flow” printed on the cover; her sense of humor ever-present). Here is the introduction that she wrote: “When you need the information that follows, I won’t be around, but at least I won’t be getting older (I am the Eternal Optimist who can find something good about everything)”. That really captures her approach to life as well as her sense of humor. She was so cavalier about death that even in her final weeks, she loved tell her favorite joke: “Did you hear about the sick corpuscle… it died in vein”.
Although she experienced some occasional bouts of confusion, sometimes lost her train of thought (who doesn’t), and had some random short-term memory issues during her final months, for the most part Lillian’s mind remained sharp, her long-term memories remained crystal clear, her desire for independence remained persistent, and most importantly her sense of humor remained strong. She always was, and remained, quick to laugh both with others and at herself. In fact, during the evening before her passing she still laughed occasionally and smiled her best smile several times.
Most everyone’s mother is a saint in their children’s eyes, but without question Lillian Brower was one of the most special people ever to walk this earth. She certainly lived up to the title “World’s Greatest Mon” that son Bryan used to address every greeting card he ever gave her. She was also more than a grandmother to her grandchildren, more than a mother-in-law to her children-in-law, more than a teacher to her students, and more than a friend to everyone she met. Her unwavering courage, her fierce independence, her generous desire to help anyone and everyone that she could, her belief in the goodness in everyone, and the pure joy that living life gave her will live on in everyone who was a part of her life. By the way, one of the first things that went up on the walls of her suite at the assisted living facility when she moved in in November was a clock that had “Live, Laugh, and Love” on its face.