John Gurdon Brewster
April 11, 1937 - April 07, 2017

Brewster, Reverend John Gurdon

The Reverend John Gurdon Brewster, 79, of Newfield, New York died Friday, April 7, 2017, following a valiant effort to recover from a heart attack and stroke in February.

Gurdon was born April 11, 1937, in New York City, the son of Dr. Blandina R. Worcester and Carroll H. Brewster. Gurdon attended Collegiate School in New York before enrolling in Phillips Exeter Academy. While at Phillips Exeter, he began to take seriously his early interest in sculpture. After graduation from Haverford College, Gurdon obtained his divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York City. While at Union, he continued to study sculpture with various individuals and institutions, including the Art Students' League where he worked briefly with Jose de Creeft. During this time, he made a portrait bust of Reinhold Niebuhr, one of his teachers, which is displayed in the Union Theological Seminary library.

Gurdon had a life changing experience when he chose to complete his seminary internship under Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta. During that summer of 1961, he lived with Martin Luther King, Sr. and worked in the church with its youth group and other youth groups from around the city. He returned again with his wife, Martha, and two daughters in the summer of 1966 as an assistant. 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 Martha went to Madras, India, for two years with the Frontier Internship in Mission Program sponsored by the Presbyterian Church. While at Madras Christian College, he taught American history, directed a program for students to work as volunteers in surrounding villages, and developed an art department for the college.

Upon returning from India, he began first as Assistant and then as Chaplain of the Episcopal Church at Cornell University, where he stayed for 34 years. He took a one year sabbatical to complete his second Master's Degree in Sacred Theology at Union Theological Seminary in 1971. During his time as chaplain, he sponsored 35 people for ordination. He also succeeded in raising an endowment that will permanently support the chaplaincy for the future.

Gurdon was a champion of social justice issues. While working at Cornell, he led several Freedom Ride trips to Atlanta, Georgia to help people learn about the Civil Rights Movement. He also led trips to Haiti to engage individuals where help was needed.

Gurdon continued his work in sculpture. During the 1970's and 1980's, he created a series of sculptures inspired by his experience in India. Most recently, his concern for social justice culminated in his sculpture of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King surrounded by scenes from the civil rights movement. An accompanying text describes each of these events. This sculpture is currently on display at the Tompkins County Public Library in Ithaca, New York.

In 1999, he retired from Cornell as University Chaplain, Emeritus. He had a special place in his heart for The Church of the Epiphany in Trumansburg, NY, where he served for over seventeen years. He always wore red socks for communion services, in honor of the fire of the Holy Spirit.

After his retirement, he had more opportunity to focus on his sculpture. He has had numerous one-person shows, including his latest show in April 2016 at State of the Art Gallery, 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. His sculpture, Welcome Home, resides above the altar in the chapel of the College of Preachers, Washington Cathedral, as well as in the office of the Most Reverend Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop and Primate of The Episcopal Church.

He had a deep reverence for music, art, and dance. He also loved nature; he and Martha placed their land in a conservation easement with the Fingerlakes Land Trust. They planted many trees as well as many daffodils, which is a Thanksgiving family tradition. He loved to make jam and was especially known for his raspberry, grape, and orange marmalade. He was also known for the delicious scones he made several times a week for afternoon tea, and for popovers, a family favorite. He loved poetry and could recite many poems. He also wrote his own poems, stories, and reflections. His routine was to get up at dawn and write in his blue armchair with his favorite cat, Belle, sitting next to him. He believed everyone needs a writing chair.

Gurdon enjoyed a family cabin in New Brunswick, Canada, which provided adventures and special times with family and friends. There he fished, built cabins and furniture, rescued old rocking chairs by replacing the worn cane seats, cooked fabulous breakfasts while singing cowboy songs, star-gazed while teaching the grandchildren constellations, and read Sherlock Holmes mysteries aloud by firelight at night. Perhaps his favorite pastime was to paddle a red canoe on a quiet evening, enjoying the stillness and sounds of nature, while asking his passenger about his or her own joys, sorrows, and mission in life. He will be eternally remembered for leaving a lantern to guide and inspire us all, through his art, passion, commitment to justice, focus on inclusion, humor, courage, encouragement, faith, and deep love.

Gurdon is survived by his wife of 54 years, Martha Klippert Brewster; four children, Ann Brewster, Mary Brewster (Kenneth) Campbell, David (Rachael) Brewster, and Sarah (Gil Bernardino) Brewster; seven grandchildren, Elisabeth and Julia Rosoff, Shannan and Kristyn Campbell, and John, Gabriel, and Grace Brewster; and his brother, Carroll W. Brewster. He will additionally be remembered by a large extended family including special friends, members of the clergy, and members of his beloved communities.

Gurdon was buried in a private burial service at Greensprings Natural Cemetery in Newfield, NY. A memorial service celebrating Gurdon's life will be held at 11:00, Saturday, October 21, 2017 at Trinity Episcopal Church, 106 Chapel St., Fayetteville, New York. A reception will follow. The family asks those who would like to make a contribution in Gurdon's name to kindly consider The Church of the Epiphany, P.O. Box 459, Trumansburg, NY 14886 or the Episcopal Church at Cornell, G-3 Anabel Taylor Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853 or the Finger Lakes Land Trust, 202 East Court Street, Ithaca, NY 14850.

Published in the Ithaca Journal on October 06, 2017.
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