John Gurdon Brewster
4/11/1937 – 4/7/2017
John Gurdon Brewster, known as Gurdon, died Friday, April 7, 2017, following the road of recovery from a heart attack, and stroke in early February of 2017.
While he was born and lived in New York City, he spent weekends, holidays and vacation at the family farm in Ridgefield, Connecticut with his older brother Carroll, and his parents, Dr. Blandina Worcester and Carroll Harwood Brewster. He also spent his summer vacation at Palfrey Lake, Canada, a beloved place. His life on the farm and his time at Palfrey Lake provided the foundation for his love of nature.
He attended Collegiate School, New York before enrolling in Phillips Exeter Academy, New Hampshire. While at Phillips Exeter, he acquired a lifelong interest in sculpture and he continued this during his college years at Haverford, Haverford, Pennsylvania.
He attended Union Theological Seminary in New York following his graduation from Haverford. There he studied with various individuals and institutions, including the Art Students’ League where he worked briefly with Jose de Creeft. During his senior year, he made a portrait bust of Reinhold Niebuhr, one of his teachers, which is displayed in the Union Seminary library, New York City.
At seminary, in 1961, he was invited by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to be an assistant minister during the summer, at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. That summer he lived with Martin Luther King Sr. and worked in the church with its youth group and youth groups from around the city. He returned again in 1966 as an assistant for the summer with his family, his wife, Martha, and two daughters. He has written about his experiences in a memoir entitled, No Turning Back.
After graduating from seminary in 1962, with a Master’s in Divinity, he and his wife went to Madras, India, for two years on an experimental church program. While at Madras Christian College, he taught American history, directed a program for students to work as volunteers in surrounding villages and he developed an art department for the college.
Upon returning from India, he began his work as the Episcopal Chaplain at Cornell University, where he stayed for 35 years. He took a one year sabbatical to complete his second Master’s Degree in Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in 1971. After receiving his Master’s degree he returned to Cornell. Over the time he was chaplain, he sponsored 35 people for ordination. He also succeeded in raising an endowment that will permanently support the chaplaincy for the future.
Gurdon continued his sculpture during those years. In the 1970’s and 80’s he created a series of sculptures inspired by his experience in India. More recently, he has focused on work stemming from his concern for justice including his recent sculpture of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King accompanied by images of the civil rights movement. He also wrote about each of the images and hoped to have this published.
In 1999, he retired from Cornell as University Chaplain, Emeritus. This gave him the opportunity to focus on his sculpture. He has had numerous one-person shows, including his latest show last April in 2016 at the State of the Art Gallery in Ithaca, NY. He has sculptures in collections around the country. When the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church first visited the Pope, he presented Pope John Paul II with one of Gurdon’s sculptures. He has a large cross hanging above the altar of the College of Preachers, a building adjacent to the Washington Cathedral.
While working at Cornell he led several Freedom Ride trips to Atlanta, Georgia with members of the community to help individuals learn about the Civil Rights Movement. He also led trips to Haiti to engage individuals and help address the needs of the poor.
He was actively involved in the community. He had a special place in his heart for the Epiphany Church of Trumansburg which had become his home, family and love for over fifteen years. He served as rector of Epiphany Church until his heart attack this past February, 2017. He was working hard on his rehabilitation to come back and serve the community and be with those he loved dearly.
He had a deep reverence for music, art and dance. He also loved nature and could be found walking his farm, Green Pastures, Newfield or riding his tractor when he was not in his studio sculpting. He planted many trees as well as many, many daffodils which was a yearly family tradition at Thanksgiving. He found joy in planting daffodils where you would least expect them.
He loved to make jam and was known especially for his raspberry, orange marmalade, and grape jam, among others. He was also known for his delicious scones which he made several times a week for afternoon tea, and popovers which were always a family favorite. He loved poetry and could recite many poems. He wrote his own poems, stories and memoires.
He had a special place in his heart for his family cabin on Palfrey Lake in Canada, which provided much pleasure, adventures and special times with great friends and family. There he fished and went on wonderful tramps through the woods to find the odd trout in a beautiful stream. He did camping, cookouts, built cabins, benches, tables, made fabulous breakfasts, and dinners, watched the stars, beautiful sunsets, and on a rare special occasion the northern lights. A new passion was rescuing old rocking chairs and replacing the worn out cane seats. He caned many chairs over the last few years. He enjoyed sailing but his real love was taking a paddle in a canoe on a quiet evening to enjoy the stillness and sounds of nature.
He is survived by his wife Martha; his daughter Ann, her children Elisabeth, (Elisa), and Julia; his daughter Mary and her husband Ken and their daughters Shannan and Kristyn and Shannan’s fiancé Manuel as well as Ken’s children Michael and Elizabeth; his son David and his daughter-in-law Rachael and their children John, (Jack), Gabriel and Grace and his daughter Sarah and her husband Gil and Gil’s children and their families Deborah, John, Rebecca and Sebastian; Daniel, Casandra and Isak and Gil Miguel, Sandra, Sofia, Giuliana, and Gabriella. He is also survived by his older brother Carroll and Carroll’s children Abraham, Ursula and Blandina and their families; Ursula’s husband Mark and their children Clara and Mary and Dina’s husband Garth and their son Crispin. He is survived by his brother-in-law Jim Klippert and his wife, Zoe and their children Thor and Garth and Garth’s wife Brooke and their children Arabella, Irina and Jaimin; his sister-in-law Ke Merseth and her children Andrew and Katherine and Andrew’s wife Carmen. He is survived by a large extended family including special friends, members of the clergy, and the community including his beloved friends and family at Epiphany Church in Trumansburg, The State of the Art Gallery, his men’s group, friends at Haverford College, The Episcopal Church at Cornell and numerous others.
He will be remembered for leaving a lantern to light and guide the way for others through his actions and love.