Karen has kindly asked me to post my memorial opening here: should others be interested in seeing them.
Thinking of you still and always, Damon, Sarah, and Duncan.
29 September 2019
Thank you so very much, Karen, and also especially Frankie, for bringing us all together, and giving me the honor to open with a few of my own thoughts about our dearly departed family and friends.
So let me begin in the traditional way and say: “Dearly beloved, we are gathered together to honor, celebrate, and recollect – re-collect — the precious lives of Damon, Sarah, and Duncan Brown”: to share our memories and our loss, and to take from this moment our collective understanding of how important each of them was to each of us, and they together were to each other.
And in anticipating this moment today, I began to think about those phrases “dearly departed” and “dearly beloved,” and that singular word “dear.” And what do we mean when we say people are “dear to us”?
The word is so common: we use it daily to address those close to us, and those we don’t know at all. We use it to speak kindly to those we love, or to soften exchanges with those with whom we are in conflict. We use it deeply sincerely or wholly sarcastically.
We use it to express affection or to express condescension. We use it to mark a special relationship, or to assert superiority, especially in age. So, as I’ve gotten older, I find myself saying to complete strangers – behind sales counters, or helping me with one or another (usually technological) problem on the phone – “thank you, my dear.”
And I used a form of it in my memories of Sarah on Karen’s brilliant memorial website: “dearest one.” And afterwards I was sorry I didn’t say “dearest, dearest one” because only that word seemed to capture my profound love for her.
Being an historian, I naturally thought: where did that word come from and why do those phrases “dearly departed” and “dearly beloved” – so apparently old and so simple – resonant the way they do? And why do we use it in such contradictory ways, as I described above?
So, off I went to the Oxford English Dictionary. Here I found a long paragraph on whether or not the word familiar to us was related to the animal word – d-e-a-r versus d-e-e-r (apparently not) — but then I discovered this quite amazing thing:
“Dear” did not mean what we now so commonly use it to mean. In its oldest sense – beginning in Old English in about the year 1000 – it meant “brave, bold, strenuous, hardy”; OR “hard, severe, heavy, grievous”.
And then there’s the second meaning, also from about the year 1000: “At a high price”; “at great cost.”
And then definition #3 (surely, I thought, now it will say “beloved, cherished, treasured” but instead we have a verb that means “To make dear or expensive.”
Only at the very end and very briefly, do we hear about “dear” in the form “to endear” (from 1603) and “dear” as a form of address (way late, in 1816).
One in fact has to move on to “dear-LY” – the adverb — to get the sense of the word to which we are so much more accustomed: “in a precious, worthy, or excellent manner; worthily, choicely, finely, richly.”
But two things came to mind here, that I think you’ll already have recognized:
One is that the original meaning of the word “dear” – “brave, bold, strenuous, hardy” – captures the essence of the Brown family – and our loss of them feels “hard, severe, heavy, grievous”; and does so “at a high price; at great cost.”
The other is that when the word becomes “dear-ly” – that is, when its meaning as bravery or grief or cost – becomes a word of action, it means that we are valuing something precious, worthy, excellent, choice, fine, rich.
So our family and friends aren’t just departed they are “precious, worthy, excellent” – dearly — departed; and we here today are not just beloved of them, but we aim to be worthy – dearly beloved” — of them.
EXACTLY BECAUSE they were brave and bold does their loss comes at great price and their gifts feel all the more precious for that.
And when we say someone is our “dearest,” we mean she, he, they are all of those things together: precious, worthy, excellent, the finest, the choicest, the most rich to us.
So, dearly beloved!
I know the other speakers today and those of you out there will have much to say about their memories and experiences and love of Damon, Sarah, and Duncan, and of the Browns’ remarkable achievements. The website and memories on display here are already so beautiful and rich with reflections that I don’t need to repeat the extraordinary lives that the 3 Browns lived, and so often lived together.
Of Damon’s love of the outdoors, of sailing, of the Olympic sport of target shooting for which he won a Distinguished Rifleman Badge, and of course, of flying; of his years learning earth sciences and geology at UC Santa Cruz and Colorado State; his many accomplishments and certifications as a professional geologist, including Partner and then President of EBA Engineering; of his certifications as an engineering geologist, hydrogeologist, and professional geologist in California, Arizona, and Wyoming; of the selection of his work on the construction of landfill liners in high seismic areas as a NAGS Awards of Excellence finalist; and of his, Sarah’s, and Duncan’s adventures in world-wide travel; his many friendships; and of his embracing of fatherhood: surely the happiest element of a happy life and of a man who lived up to the true meaning of the phrase “family values.”
And others will speak of Sarah, of her years at Colorado College and Colorado State, of her path-breaking experience as a female geologist, mentee of the legendary Eddie McKee – the retired Chief Naturalist at the Grand Canyon – her move into mystery writing in the early 90s and incredibly prolific output: 10 novels in 10 years, featuring the female geology heroine non-pareil Em Hansen! and of her last novels highlighting the unforgiving environment of Antarctic and bringing Em Hansen back to center-stage: of these works that explored everything from boardroom politics, to dinosaurs to high-stakes gambling; from Native Americans and Mormons to big oilmen; from political corruption to climate change and art forgery; to of course making one’s way as a woman professional in a man’s world: and I don’t need to speak of the seven prestigious awards she has won for her writing, including the 2016 President’s Medal of the Geological Society of America, created in 2007 – Sarah being among the first 10 recipients — and “conferred only on individuals, groups, or entities whose impact has profoundly enhanced the geosciences”; and of course, of Sarah’s love of being a mother above all things.
And what to say of Duncan? How he followed so closely his parents’ model; thrived at Analy High School and Occidental College, including an extended stint at NASA where he was assisting with projects regarding the possibilities and finding and sustaining life in space! How he traveled solo in Chile, and graduated with double major in biology and Spanish with a whole lot of art thrown in; and how he worked in Taiwan, and studied for his MA degree from San Francisco Institute of Architecture and worked with design and construction firms in his home town; and of his long friendships, especially with Sita from Occidental; and his big heart and loving spirit.
I’ll close quoting the opening page of the Brown memorial website, which captures the essence of the many posts that followed on the memorial: “They were an amazing family who lived life to the fullest.”
Yes: they were brave, bold, strenuous, hardy; our loss is hard and at a great cost; but they were precious, worthy, excellent, choice, fine, rich in spirit.
May you rest in peace, dearest, DEAREST ones.