A Remarkable Life

Nanna Brown and II know this rather personal post is out of character for this blog, but I felt I wanted to post it anyway…  I hope you don’t mind.

My grandmother died this week. The funeral was today, and it was a tough day to get through.  I was brave on the outside because my mum needed me to be, but on the inside, I cried a lot.

I really loved my Nanna Brown. She was an extraordinary woman who, at nearly 98, lived through most of the past century.  I had never really stopped to think about it, but when I looked at the list of world events she’d lived through it was astonishing.  I know we talk a lot about change, and the pace of change, and how important it is to deal with the changing world we live in, but in my nan’s lifetime she lived through both World Wars, as well as an assortment of other wars and a Great Depression.

She was just over 1 year old when the first transatlantic flight was made, 15 years old when Penicillin was discovered, 24 when construction started on the Golden Gate Bridge, and just a few months older when the Hindenburg disaster happened.

At 32 she saw the Atomic Bomb drop on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, she was 39 when the world’s first jet airliner went into commercial use, and 48 when the first human went into space.

At 50 years old, she watched the construction of the Berlin Wall, and at 77, she watched it come down again.  When she was 80 the European Union was founded, and she was 88 when New York’s Twin Towers were attacked on 9/11.

She grew up before television, before radio, before cars, before the Internet. While she was alive, so was Gustav Eiffel, Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell, Sigmund Freud, Walt Disney and Henry Ford. She was born before, and died after, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King and Benito Mussolini.

What a remarkable period of history to have lived through!

The last few conferences I’ve been to all had keynote speakers who repeated the same basic message… the world is changing and we better get good at dealing with change.  As much as we edtech types like to carry on about adaptability and the need to learn to deal with dramatic changes in our world, we sometimes tend to forget just how much the world can change in one person’s lifetime even if that person grew up before the invention of the Internet, Social Networking and the rise of China.

I was really close to my nan, and I’m glad I was with her just a few days before she died. She was a truly remarkable lady.

If you’re interested, this is the eulogy that I wrote and read at the church today…

A couple of days ago, I was asked what I remembered most about Nan.  There are lots of memories of course, and although I’d not really thought about it before, I’m starting to realise that many of these memories have profoundly affected who I am as a person, the way I see the world and the way I’ve grown up.

  • When I was very young – before I started school – I remember waking up one morning to be told by Nan “we’re going to Japan this morning” and finding a little low table in the middle of the dining room floor.  Nan had set a Japanese breakfast on the floor and we had to sit on cushions and eat with chopsticks.  Nan taught us to have a sense of the whimsical, a sense of the unexpected, a sense of curiosity about the world.
  • When we were young, my cousins and I used to put on plays in Nan’s house.  We were often short of a character, so Nan would volunteer to dress up as an extra character in these childhood plays. The one that I think we all remember the best – because even to this day we still talk about it – was our production of Robinson Crusoe, and we can still see Nan playing the part of the savage boy, Man Friday, dressed in a leopard skin stole, her hair all messed up and her face painted black with boot polish.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of humour, a sense of fun and to never take ourselves too seriously.
  • When I was quite young, I remember going with Nan to the African Lion Safari in Sydney. There was a rather long, high swinging rope bridge there and as I walked across it with Nan it started to swing dramatically.  I was petrified and started to cry and scream. Nan calmed me down by explaining that it was ok, it was safe. That the people who built it obviously didn’t build it to fall down, so why would it fall down?  As she unfolded the logic of why the bridge was safe, my worry started to disappear and suddenly everything seemed ok.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of bravery, a sense of calm, and most of all, a sense of commonsense.
  • A couple of years ago, we took Nan for a drive down to Denman and Yarrawa, where she grew up as a child. She loved going for drives, and would always be pointing things out, telling stories, admiring the Hunter Valley landscape which she loved so much. She managed to find the house in which she was born and as we drove around the area she told us lots of stores from her childhood.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of history, a sense of self, a sense of heritage.
  • I remember sitting down at a family dinner one day, with the whole family there, and realising that there was one too many plates set at the table.  When I told Nan that she’d miscounted, she replied that, no, she just likes to set an extra place in case somebody unexpectedly dropped by… she wantedl them to feel welcome and to be able to join us without feeling like they were intruding.  Nan taught us to have a sense of welcome, a sense of pride, and sense of giving.
  • And that’s the thing that stands out the most about Nan to me… her love of people. In all the years I knew Nan, I never once heard her talk poorly about anybody.  She always seemed to find  the good side of other people, and always managed to find something nice to say about them.  Nan taught us how to have a sense of goodness, a sense of the positive.  A sense of humanity.

There are so many things that Nan taught us all. When we lose someone we love, it’s hard to not feel sad and upset and to grieve about the loss of what we no longer have. But I know that everyone in this room could come up with a list of their favourite “Nan moments”… those treasured times when she made you laugh, or made you think, or made you see the world a little bit differently to the way you’d seen it before.  Although Nan isn’t with us anymore, if we can remember back to those special moments she created with each of us, I’m sure we’ll find that there are ways in which they’ve touched our lives that will live on for a very long time.

I’d like to think that it’s those moments that are the real legacy Nanna Brown leaves with us.

CC BY-SA 4.0 A Remarkable Life by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

12 Replies to “A Remarkable Life”

  1. What a wonderful person your Nan!! Thank you Nana Brown for being such an influence on the person Chris has become.

    There is something about grand parents that seem to give them a wisdom and grace that we just don’t have as parents. Chris, when some day you are a grand parent, may you also be as influential in those young lives.

    …and just a moment to also remember my Grandma Fischer. I was only 20 when she died, but she too was a tremendous influence in my life and in who I became. She was born in Germany in 1871, and came to this country as a 17 year old, where she married, had 8 children, learned English and insisted that everyone around her do the same. When I was born, WWII was being fought; I was just a babe when the USA entered the war and a youngster when it was over. Grandma was very much saddened by what had happened in Germany. She was embarrassed by the evil and I remember her all my life making sure that we grandkids knew about it and learned and valued different people and places. She was Catholic, but encouraged us to go with other kids to their church or Sunday school. She took us an area of town where many Jewish families lived, where we made friends, played, learned about holidays and saw we were not at all different.

    I’ll stop, though I could go on forever. It’s been 49 years since Grandma Fischer died and I’ll never forget how she lived. I guarantee the sadness will vanish Chris, but you’ll never forget you Nan.

  2. My Nan holds a very special place in my heart too Chris. I think of her often, even though she passed away 17 years ago. She was a strong woman who held fast to her beliefs. I like to think I’ve inherited some of the qualities I admired in her. We are the product of the people who’ve nurtured us. It sounds to me that the person you are today is solidly grounded in Nanna Brown’s teachings. (and you have inherited her nose!!)

  3. Recently my best friend’s father-in-law died . . . this sounds like a distant connection, but I have known this man since I was 16 years old (25 years-ish) and he felt like family to me!

    As I was sitting at his funeral, listening to the stories of his life, I had a similar revelation to you Chris about adapting to change. I had respect for Harold all the time I knew him but he will never know how much that respect has grown since he died … I found out so many amazing things about him and how interwoven into the pioneering history of the Swan Hill region he was. Both he and his wife (who is now adapting life without him) experienced the changes your Nan did … the amazing advent of electricity and cars long preceeding the rise of television and computers.

    What struck me as I sat in the church was that we spend a lot of time worrying about our students/children and how we will prepare them for a world they cannot imagine . . . and yet our grandparents survived massive changes in their lifetimes, learnt to live a world they could not have imagined and still helped us to “turn out OK”.

    RIP Nana Brown, Harold and all the pioneers who rode the wave of change . . . the wave is still rolling and we will ride it as long as we can!

  4. Thanks for this Chris,

    My Nan passed away about two years ago at the ripe old age of 93, she sounded very similar to your Nan.
    Reading your post bought back memories of my Nan and the important life lessons she taught me and my family.
    I must admit it made me sad, but warmed me to think that my Nan isn’t really dead if the lessons she taught me (acceptance, warmth, tolerance, live within your means, be passionate and most importantly live your life to the max it is the only one we have) stay with me and I get to pass them on to my daughter.

    Thanks Mate

  5. I’m sorry to hear of your loss, Chris.

    Like you, I’ve often thought of the changes my Gran lived through…. “before the invention of the Internet, Social Networking and the rise of China.”

    It strikes me that your Nan did what we are all trying to do as educators: help people (I teach adults, not kids) along in life…through interventions.

    Obviously a great woman.

    I’ll also take this opportunity to thank you for your blogging, slideshare, podcasts etc which I’ve only recently discovered. They’re great.


  6. Chris – Thank you for sharing this and for contextualising something so personal and touching.

    Your sense of loss is palpable Chris, I hope sharing Nana Brown’s wisdom goes some way to expand her wonderful legacy – now not just in you, but with all of us.

    Gentle Thoughts, and Gratitude.

  7. Thank you for sharing about Nanna Brown. What an incredible life lived and what a lovely tribute you’ve written.

    I’ve gone back several times to look at the photo of the two of you. You can see the joy, the spark, and the love of life in her face. Beautiful.


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