Ellen L. Brandenburg
Ellen Louise Brandenburg, of Salem, MA, was cherished as a calm, generous and easygoing friend, a wise and trusted colleague, and a "cool" mom; worthy of confidences and crushes. She dedicated her career in the Unitarian Universalist ministry to shaping religious education programs for youth, and guiding new ministers into the field.
Ellen died at home at the age of 75, on September 4, 2020, following a recurrence of uterine cancer. Becoming ill in late March, Ellen struggled like us all with the complications of coronavirus stay-at-home orders. However, she took advantage of the solitude to reflect, keep up with email, and enjoy the company of her family. She was fortunate to share a household with daughter Anna and granddaughter Ivy, and to be joined by son Pete who camped his way across the country, arriving on Mother's Day. Ellen's family was grateful to be able to spend the final months of her life with her at home.
The third child of Philip Gerald “Gerry” Boyd and Dorotha Ellen Young, Ellen was born February 10, 1945 in Washington, DC, but was raised in Wilmette, Illinois. Ellen lost her mother to cancer at age 10, and her father then married Helen Minter. After graduating from New Trier High School, Ellen decided to move East for college. That summer she met George Brandenburg, also a New Trier graduate. The two took up residence in Cambridge, MA, were married in 1965, and Ellen graduated from Boston University in 1967. The couple followed George’s particle physics appointments to live in Munich, Germany, Menlo Park, CA, and then back to Cambridge, where George worked at MIT and then Harvard for the rest of his career.
Ellen and George lived in Lexington, MA for 32 years, and became deeply involved at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Lexington. There, Ellen began working with youth and eventually felt called to the ministry, becoming ordained in 1982. One of Ellen’s earliest positions was as Interim Minister at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Marblehead (1983-1984). She served the longest role of her career as Director of Ministerial Education for the Unitarian Universalist Association in Boston, a job that took her across the country to support ministerial students. She is remembered by many as a trailblazer and a wise mentor who had a silly side and a "slant perspective” to offer on many issues.
Ellen served a final interim ministry in Keene, NH from 2002-2003. Soon after retiring, Ellen began volunteering at the Peabody Essex Museum, which led to Ellen and George exploring the North Shore and moving to Salem in 2006. Before settling into retirement, they spent two years living in Geneva, Switzerland, where George finished out his particle physics career working on the Atlas experiment at the CERN Large Hadron Collider.
Back in Salem, Ellen and George became active members at First Church Unitarian Universalist. They continued to travel, for several years enjoying flying to favorite locations in their plane which George piloted, until they found a new love in sailing together. The couple maintained their strong connection to Star Island in the Isles of Shoals, NH, attending the International Affairs Conference every summer. Ellen continued her docent work at PEM, made wonderful new friends, and became involved in numerous organizations, including the UU Retired Ministers Association, Voices Against Injustice, two book clubs, a Dream Group, and a dinner club.
After George died unexpectedly in 2013, Ellen’s gracious spirit and sparkling smile kept her longtime friendships close and won her an ever-expanding circle of new friends. In 2014, Ellen was overjoyed to become a grandmother to Ivy, who inherited her dimples.
Ellen was blessed with a lively intellect and an avid curiosity about the world and its people. She had the ability to light up a room with her presence. Her friends and family will always remember her keen ability to listen closely, her loving nature, her generosity, her sense of humor, her courage, her wonderful cooking and her adventurousness.
Ellen is survived by her older siblings Peter Boyd and Mary Davis, both of Ponte Vedra Beach, FL, and her stepsister Sue Oates of Gunnison, CO. She also leaves her daughter Anna and granddaughter Ivy Brandenburg of Salem, MA; and her son Peter Brandenburg and his wife Krisztina Holly of Los Angeles. She also leaves behind a wide circle of loving and beloved family members, friends and colleagues all over the country, and the world.
A memorial service will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Ellen’s name to:
First Church in Salem Community Relief Fund, 316 Essex Street, Salem MA, 01970 (if contributing online, select "General Fund," and include Ellen's name in the note field). www.firstchurchinsalem.org/
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Care Dimensions Hospice, 75 Sylvan Street, Suite B-102, Danvers, MA 01923. www.caredimensions.org/giving/ways-to-give/
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Star Island Corporation, Morton- Benedict House, 30 Middle St., Portsmouth, NH 03801. www.starisland.org/donate