Brenda Burlin

August 07, 2010|By RICHARD F. BELISLE
  • Brenda Burlin's life experiences included working as a waitress, in bars, real estate, scooping ice cream, modeling at charity events and skydiving. "She crossed all social circles," longtime friend Kathryn Burns said of Burlin, who died July 18 at age 67.
Submitted photo,

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs "A Life Remembered." Each story in this continuing series takes a look back -- through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others -- at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Brenda Burlin, who died July 18 at the age of 67. Her obituary was in the July 21 edition of The Herald-Mail.

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- "Some people have a checkered past," Brenda Burlin was fond of saying. "My past is plaid."

Plaid perhaps, but in rich, vibrant colors, much like the life she led before she succumbed July 18, at age 67, after a long bout with cancer.

She died at her home in Shepherdstown with family and friends at her bedside.

Within an hour after news of her death began to spread through town, flowers appeared on her porch rail. Friends gathered outside her home on German Street for a quiet vigil that went on for most of that Sunday afternoon.


Brenda was born in Somerville, N.J. Adulthood came early to her, when she married for the first time at age 14, a union that produced two sons, John and Jim Conklin.

She never finished high school.

Two more marriages followed, a brief one in the mid-1960s to an older New Jersey man and a third to a young Russian, which lasted from the early 1980s to late 1990s.

Patricia Barber of Keedysville was a close friend since the mid-1980s, when both lived on Canal Road in Sharpsburg.

There were two serious relationships in between, Barber said. One to a wealthy man in New York in the 1970s. That was Brenda's "New York period," Barber said. "Brenda lived a glamorous lifestyle in those years."

Her last relationship, before moving to Shepherdstown in 2001, was to a man in Vermont.

"She was the bravest person I ever knew," Patricia said. "She had a lifetime struggle with clinical depression, but she always came back from it."

Patricia said Brenda was also the kindest, most forgiving, and, because of her past, the least judgmental person.

"She always saw herself as being flawed and because of that she was able to accept everyone for whom they were," Patricia said. "She loved people in spite of their flaws because she had made so many mistakes herself."

She constantly underestimated herself, Patricia said.

"She's been a waitress, worked in bars, had a real estate license, scooped ice cream, modeled charity events in New York, was a skydiver and an assistant librarian," Patricia said.

Brenda could be seen rapping with guys in local bars and dressed to the nines at some of the best parties, friends said.

"She crossed all social circles," said Kathryn Burns, a longtime friend and owner of the Bridge Gallery in Shepherdstown.

Never wealthy, never extravagant, Brenda nonetheless loved living well and the good things in life, Kathryn said.

She was known for having a fantastic assortment of clothes, those with the best labels, most of which she found in thrift shops.

"It didn't matter that she didn't have much money. Brenda had a knack for finding the best. She knew how to put things together," Kathryn said.

"She loved to read, had the best taste in films and music, and had the ability to form close relationships with a lot of different people," said Kathryn, who spent a lot of time with Brenda during her fight with cancer.

Brenda started working in the Shepherdstown Public Library as a volunteer, but she caught on so fast and fit so perfectly that she was soon hired as a part-time assistant librarian.

"She became an integral part of the library," said Hali Taylor, head librarian.

"She was very well-read and was able to recommend books on all levels for the patrons," Hali said. "The library was lucky to have her."

"I could not visit her without meeting half the town. It was like she grew up here," said Brenda's son, Jim. "She had a lot of friends. People referred to her as the mayor of Shepherdstown."

"Brenda had a great sense of humor and loved a good bawdy joke. She had a lifelong love of fiction and thus found her ideal career with the library," said her sister, Betty Farley.

"Brenda was able to adapt herself to many different situations that came her way, but none better than her life in Shepherdstown, where she found unconditional love and support," Betty said.

"She was someone who was real special to me. I miss her every day. It's hard for me to talk about her without crying," said Susan Carney, a longtime friend.

"It was an inspiration to see how she faced death and the way she continued to try to enjoy life," Susan said.

"Brenda was not a religious person in the institutional sense," said Bill Carrigan, another longtime friend. "But how she was with others, open, caring and interested, seemed to say something about the teachings of Christ. She could sit with you in your suffering. She was not a fearful person, but a balanced human being," he said.

"She could play and suffer with you and not be frightened by either," Bill said.

A celebration of Brenda's life will be held Aug. 28 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Rosebrake, the home of Davitt and Kathryn McAteer.

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