TERESA BREWER FAN CLUB
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New Haven, CT 06511
Many of you were very surprised and somewhat stunned to learn that Teresa had died. Most of you hadn’t even known she was ill. Because Teresa was such a private person, it was something that could not be shared. I hope that telling you about it now – and reporting on her wake and funeral as well – will make up for not divulging the information to you beforehand.
Teresa, as you know, died on October 17, 2007 in her New Rochelle home of progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP), a rare, degenerative brain disease. Her mind had been sharp until the end; it was her body that failed her.
Teresa’s illness began to show its signs about eight years ago, a couple of years after the death of husband Bob. Symptoms included things like losing her balance or falling down unexpectedly. A typical scenario would have her walking down the street; in mid-stride, she’d want to turn to the left and continue to walk. Her mind knew she wanted to turn left but her legs didn’t. She would freeze for a moment, almost losing her balance and falling.
Teresa, at the time, was spending a good deal of time in the midtown Manhattan apartment she had shared with Bob. (She still maintained the home in New Rochelle, a little more than a half hour away from the city, and would alternate living between the two places.) With Bob now gone, she was left with the daunting experience of being by herself for short periods of time. Throughout her life there had always been someone with her – her family in Toledo, husbands Bill and Bob, her beloved Aunt Mary who lived with her until Mary’s death in the 1990s and, of course, her children. She adapted very well to being on her own in Manhattan, as was evident by the fact that she was spending so much time by herself in the city.
As the illness showed signs of advancing, though, Teresa decided that it would be unwise to be alone in Manhattan. She was afraid that she might fall when she was out in public, especially when crossing the busy streets. In the apartment, and at home in New Rochelle, she was in familiar territory and could grab on to a chair or another piece of furniture if she felt she was going to fall. These moments of feeling unsure of herself didn’t happen all that often at first; still, she didn’t want to take chances by being by herself in the city. So, she decided to spend all of her time in the family home in New Rochelle, the one in which all her children grew up, in surroundings with which she was very familiar.
There came the time when Teresa was forced to use a wheelchair occasionally, but, as her condition worsened, she ended up using a motorized one nearly all the time. Teresa’s grandsons provided some lighthearted moments. They would tease her by making a point of getting out of her way when she came barreling down the hallway in the wheelchair. (“Look out! Here she comes!”) Once, she almost hit one of her grandsons while navigating the chair, prompting him to crack, “Grandma, we should put a line down the middle of the hall so you’ll stay on the right side!” Teresa got a kick out of another grandson’s comment. He was trying to be helpful after she accidentally ran into a wall by saying, “We should put a ‘stop’ sign there for you, Grandma!”
As the years passed by, Teresa’s overall condition worsened, and, in the past six months or so, her decline was more progressive and rapid. She’d have good days and bad days, with more good than bad. Then, toward the end, it was more bad than good. It was the love and devotion of her children – and her strong faith – that got her through the bad times. She had had many setbacks along the way but always rallied, until 1:30 in the morning of Wednesday, October 17, when she died in her home. In the hours before she passed away, Teresa was surrounded by her four daughters who joined in prayers for a peaceful death. At the end, she was given last rites by Father Martin Bilgin of Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Rochelle. One of Teresa’s final wishes was to die in her home, and her family honored this request. She died as she lived, with dignity and faith, and her legacy is the joy felt by the people who knew and loved her and her music.
In a telephone call to me a few hours later that Wednesday morning, Kathleen said that her mother was at peace at last and that “the angels in heaven are singing more strongly now.”
On Wednesday afternoon, about twelve hours after Teresa had died, I started to get phone calls from the media: The New York Times, the Associated Press, Entertainment Weekly, and about a half-dozen or so other sources. I don’t know where they got my name and telephone number but it didn’t bother me; I wanted to help out the family in any way I was able. I could only imagine the many calls they had to field at such a busy and sad time. Late that afternoon, I contacted columnist David Hinckley of the New York Daily News and Cindy Adams, entertainment reporter for the New York Post. Both of them had pieces in their respective papers almost immediately – Thursday for David; Friday for Cindy.
Kathleen called on Thursday with information regarding the wake, telling me that it was scheduled for Friday; a Mass of Christian Burial was set for late Saturday morning. She invited me to a luncheon with the family directly after the funeral. An invitation was also extended to Jane, of course, and to Norm Muir, a dear friend of mine from the Toronto area. After learning that Norm was planning to be traveling by car (eight hours) from Canada just to be present at the funeral, Kathleen immediately invited him to the luncheon as well. Norm is certainly in the top-ten of the all-time Teresa Brewer fans – maybe even #2 with a bullet.
The wake was held on Friday, the 19th, at the McMahon, Lyon and Hartnett Funeral Home in White Plains, New York. Calling hours were from two to four in the afternoon and from seven to nine in the evening.
Jane and I had gotten to the funeral home about fifteen minutes before two because I had a lovely 8x10 color photo of Teresa and Bob that the family wanted to use in a photo display of Teresa’s family life. We ran into Megan and her family at the funeral home’s entrance. They had arrived at the same time as we. Jane and I had a nice chat with Megan and her personable twenty-three-year-old son, Brendan, before we all went to the main room of the funeral home where Teresa’s casket was placed. Megan, knowing we were very upset about the loss of Teresa, said just the right things. She made such a sad situation easier as she led us, along with her husband Denis and sons Brendan and Ian, to the room where the casket was located. For that, we were very grateful. (Megan and Denis’s three sons, by the way, are all successful, poised and extremely nice. Their parents have every right to be very proud of them.)
The room where the coffin was situated was large and was adorned with many beautiful floral sprays and arrangements of flowers. To the right of the casket were two large boards with a couple of dozen or so photos of Teresa and her family that had been taken over the years. There were candid and delightful photos of Teresa, Bill and the four girls when the girls were young; of Teresa and daughters Kathleen and Megan on their wedding days; of Perry Como, Teresa and Kathleen, as a small child, taken at a television studio in the 1950s; of Teresa interacting with her young grandsons; a wonderful picture of Teresa with Kermit, the Frog (one that I had never seen before); and so many others. Between this magnificent display of pictures was a stand with a large color photo of Teresa on it and the smaller 8x10 of her and Bob that I had brought. The photo display, representing some of the highlights of Teresa’s family life throughout the years, was beautifully and tastefully presented.
As we entered the room, Susan approached us almost immediately and comforted us. She said that her mother had been through such an ordeal, especially during the last few months, and that it was a true blessing she was suffering no more. “My mother was so courageous, especially at the end,” Susan told me. She, Jane and I commented on the expansive and positive effect that Teresa had had on the lives of so many people, not just ours. Because her singing had sold so many millions of records throughout the world over the years, she had made that many million people – people she didn’t even know – happier just by hearing her voice. “Her beautiful and incredible voice,” Susan added, almost to herself.
Kathleen and I had talked a number of times in the weeks preceding Teresa’s death. From what I understand from one of the sisters, it was Kathleen who organized the wake and the funeral Mass, but I am sure she had assistance and moral support from Susan, Megan and Michelle. Teresa always said that Kathleen was very efficient and “got things done.” This was evident during the days after Teresa’s passing. It couldn’t have been easy making all the arrangements for the wake and the funeral and such, but Kathleen did it, and did it beautifully.
And then there’s Michelle! The last time I had seen her was such a happy one: her wedding to Ralph in 1997. When she saw me at the wake that Friday afternoon, the first thing she did was to approach and say, “Give me a hug.” Michelle then gave me the biggest, warmest squeeze I’ve received in a long time, and it made me feel good. It has been an especially sad year for Michelle. In August, her husband died after a long battle with a brain tumor, and then two months later, she lost her mother. I used to look forward to chatting with Michelle when she’d answer the phone at her mother’s. She’d always start out with, “Hi, hon, how’re you doing?” What a sweetheart she is.
I’d like to tell you a humorous, yet touching, moment at the wake. Grandson Denis, with his two young daughters on each side, knelt down at Teresa’s coffin and prayed. Pint-sized Quinn, who is about three (and quite a little rascal!), didn’t want to be left out so he tried to squeeze in between his father and sister Ryleigh. There wasn’t all that much room so he went to the other side of his dad. He had better luck there as he gave his sister Shaylan a nudge and then knelt down between her and their dad. His father said something softly to him and Quinn bowed his head and appeared to be praying. When the group was through, they all stood up, with Quinn looking particularly pleased with himself. They – including mother, Tierney, and another baby brother – are a lovely family, of whom Teresa was so proud.
With the exception of Nicolas, Susan’s sixteen-year-old son who was on a field trip in Washington, D.C., her husband Didier who was at the funeral home in the evening session, and Teresa’s young great-grandchild, Aidan (Ian’s son), we saw all of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren during the afternoon hours of the wake. Teresa had a great deal of pride in each one of them and it was easy to see and understand why. Every one of them was a comforting presence for each mourner, easing the sadness but not the dignity and respect of the occasion. It was plain to see that they were a comfort to one another, too.
Teresa’s funeral Mass was held on Saturday morning at eleven o’clock at the Holy Name of Jesus Church in New Rochelle. The beautiful service was officiated by Father Biglin, who had visited Teresa at her home and had performed the last rites.
Because he was a big fan of Teresa’s, Father Biglin’s homily had a very personal touch to it. He had grown up in the Bronx in the 1950s and it was a Saturday morning ritual for his family to pitch in and do housework together. During those cleaning sessions, the radio was invariably tuned to Martin Block’s Make-Believe Ballroom, WNEW’s then popular countdown of the top-thirty hits of the week,. Because of Teresa’s immense popularity on the record charts in those days, the weekly show – more often than not – was represented by at least one of her hits. Listening to Teresa and the other hit-makers of the day certainly eased the burden of scrubbing that bathtub!
Father Bilgin said “Thank God we have people like Teresa Brewer who continue to inspire us. Her happy, cheerful songs made everyone smile.” In a chat with me, he said that he had always been a Teresa Brewer aficionado and remembered, as a youngster, watching her television series with Mel Torme (Summertime USA) and her many TV appearances, as guest and guest-hostess, on the popular shows of Ed Sullivan, Arthur Godfrey, Perry Como and others. He considered it a true honor to conduct the funeral Mass for his childhood idol.
Holy communion was offered to those who wished to participate, and songs such as “Amazing Grace,” “Ave Maria,” “On Eagles’ Wings,” “Be Not Afraid” and “Gentle Woman” (a song based on the Prayer of Hail Mary) were beautifully sung by a soprano throughout the service. The music gave the proceedings added grace.
As the family walked down the aisle behind Teresa’s coffin at the end of the Mass, the congregation could see the simple, lovely rosary beads – beads made of small, pink roses – that adorned the casket.
Outside the church, where family and friends gathered, I looked up at the clear, blue sky on a perfect Indian summer day. I asked Susan if she had ordered this absolutely beautiful weather. Susan – not missing a beat – smiled and replied, “No, my mother did.”
Norm, Jane and I were invited to join Teresa’s family for luncheon immediately after the funeral. It was held at the Winged Foot Golf Club, a simply beautiful setting located in Mamaroneck, New York. Teresa had loved going to Winged Foot, one of her favorite places. Because of this (and since Kathleen is a member of the club), it was the perfect choice for a gathering of Teresa’s family, friends and loved ones.
Upon going up the drive, you had the feeling that you were entering the property of an old, distinguished stately home in England rather than finding yourself still in the heart of Westchester County. The main building is a very large, very old stone structure. And it is surrounded on all sides by the lush, green, beautifully manicured golf course. Strategically located on the greens are Adirondack chairs for those who wish to sit and watch people playing golf, or for tired golfers wanting just to rest.
Before lunch, guests gathered for drinks in a lounge that resembled an old English drawing room, complete with a fireplace and large oil portraits of golf professionals on the wall. There, we got the chance to meet and visit with some of Teresa’s family, people about whom we had heard all these years but hadn’t previously met. And it was obvious how close they seemed to be with one another. A nice sight was seeing an older grandson chatting amiably with his younger brother, with his arm around the shoulders of the younger one.
Lunch was served in the elegant dining room across the hall from the lounge. It was a large room with floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the green expanse. A sumptuous buffet was offered (the main course was a choice of a delectable chicken or salmon dish). The room had a pleasant buzz to it. In fact, the atmosphere was such a happy one that we had the feeling that Teresa’s spirit was there with us. And I’m sure it was.
In wrapping up, I’d like to say that Teresa’s family, not surprisingly, handled the wake, the funeral Mass and the luncheon gathering with such dignity, good taste and respect. Everything was so fitting, as you would expect.
One last thing: While driving home on the Merritt Parkway in Connecticut after the funeral and luncheon, there appeared all of a sudden in the sky ahead an enormous, beautiful, vibrant and perfectly-shaped double rainbow. Upon seeing it, Jane and I looked at one another and immediately thought of Teresa.
Teresa will remain forever in the hearts and memories of all her fans, friends and family.
Upon the pronouncement of Teresa’s death in the media on Wednesday, October 17, the Teresa Brewer Center and the Teresa Brewer Fan Club were both inundated with e-mails, letters, cards and phone calls. In fact, we received literally hundreds of emails from fans and friends throughout the world – from Australia, England, Mexico, Scotland, Canada, Germany, the Philippines, Iceland, Argentina, The Netherlands, Sweden, and other far away places. The far-ranging effect that Teresa and her singing had on people was immense. So many of you asked for details about Teresa’s illness and wanted to hear about the wake and the funeral as well. Since it was virtually impossible to answer each and every inquiry at length, we decided to post the foregoing recapitulation for you.
Teresa hadn’t been in the limelight for a number of years, yet, even so, the news of her death was deemed important enough by the media to warrant ample coverage. In the Northeast, for example, most of the broadsheets, including The Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, Connecticut Post and The Washington Post, had notices of Teresa’s death on their front pages, with detailed accountings inside. And some of the New York television and radio news shows covered her passing twice in the same broadcast – once in the main news section at the beginning of the broadcast and then, later on, in the sports roundup. Because of Teresa’s association with Mickey Mantle, which produced the hit single, “I Love Mickey,” some of the sportscasters showed pictures of Teresa and Mickey together while playing a bit of their song for the benefit of the viewing audience.
When Perry Como died six years ago, I remember mentioning to Teresa that I was puzzled that I had heard practically nothing about it in the news. Teresa wasn’t that surprised. She said that, for some reason, unless you died in your prime or performed up until the end or were a prominent country-music star, deaths of singers were given low priority by the media. Keeping this in mind, I was very pleased with the coverage that was given to Teresa, a true testament to her immense talent and lasting popularity.
On October 21, on National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition Sunday, host Liane Hansen told the radio audience that for over 40 years, Teresa Brewer “continued to enchant” music listeners with her singing. About seven minutes of an interview that Teresa gave on NPR in 1991 was reprised as a remembrance. We understand that quite a few listeners wrote in to the show to show their appreciation of the rebroadcast. For those of you who missed this delightful NPR interview, you can listen to it at the Teresa Brewer Center Web site. [Click here to hear the NPR broadcast.]
Deborah Kerr and Joey Bishop died the day after Teresa and on that same Sunday morning on television, CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Osgood paid a lovely tribute to the three of them. Teresa was remembered first. As Mr. Osgood was giving a summary of her extraordinary career, photos were shown in the background, including some from the Major Bowes days. Kathleen thought it was “fantastic!” At the end of the tribute, pictures of Teresa, Deborah and Joey were displayed side by side. With the opening strains of “Till I Waltz Again with You” playing in the background, Charles Osgood solemnly said: “A farewell to three very different stars in the world of entertainment.”
For those of you who have America Online, you know that each day, when you sign on, the first thing you notice at the top of the homepage is AOL Hot Searches. It lists people and subjects that have gotten the most hits for that day. On Thursday, October 18, the news of Teresa’s death was number three in the amount of hits, coming directly behind Dancing with the Stars and the 20-year anniversary of the rescue from a well of Baby Jessica McClure. Falling behind the news of Teresa were the separate searches for Angelina/Paris/Lindsay/Britney, the San Diego fires, and manager Joe Torre leaving the New York Yankees. For a complete listing of the twenty top searches for October 18, go to the AOL homepage, click “more” by the AOL Hot Searches box, and proceed to that date. It’s yet one more testament to the enduring popularity of Teresa Brewer.
Most of the newspapers and magazines in the country do not have staff writers to prepare the obituaries of celebrities these days and, thus, they have to rely on the Associated Press’s reporting. While the A.P. write-up for Teresa was highly complimentary, there were a few inconsistencies and inaccuracies. For example, “Music! Music! Music!,” Teresa’s first hit record in 1950 – a million seller and her signature song – was not mentioned at all. The reporter stated that Teresa’s first hit was “Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now” in 1952. It was not her initial hit record. That particular song was her first chart entry after joining Coral Records. She had had three prior hits, including “Music!,” on the London label.
I was quoted by the Associated Press as saying that Teresa had “close to 40 hits that topped the charts.” Would that were so! What I said – and said clearly – was that Teresa had close to 40 hits that made the charts (and that includes the infectious, tongue-twisting “Pickle Up a Doodle” which peaked at #99). Very few singers can claim such an accomplishment.
All in all, though, the Associated Press report was a very nice one.
Within 36 hours of the announcement of Teresa’s death, the Teresa Brewer Center Web site had 31,000 visits by her admirers. And, two weeks later, the site had close to 55,000 new hits. This is added testament to her immense popularity, proof of how much she and her wonderful music were loved.
You might want to plan a return visit to the Teresa Brewer Center if you haven’t done so recently. There are now a total of eight obituaries there, including lovely write-ups from the Toledo Blade, Los Angeles Times, the BBC, International Herald Tribune, The Boston Globe, London’s Guardian, and The New York Times.
The Teresa Brewer Center and the Teresa Brewer Fan Club have received literally hundreds of letters and emails of condolences. The TBC has added quite a few of them in the “Fan Quotes” section of the website. In the future, please check periodically for additional postings. Whether the notes were long and thought-provoking, or short and sincere, it is evident that each one of them came from the heart. Be assured that every one of the emails and letters that you sent was read by us prior to sending them on to Teresa’s daughters. We thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts with us and the family.
Many of you have contacted us about making contributions in Teresa’s memory to a charity. The family has requested that donations be sent to the Cure Progressive Supranuclear Palsy Organization. CurePSP is constantly doing research in the hopes of finding a cure for this dreadful disease that attacked Teresa – and ultimately was the cause of her death. All of Teresa’s family thank each and every one of you in advance for your contributions to this very worthy organization.
Chris and I would like to emphasize the fact that the Teresa Brewer Center Web site is constantly evolving, continually adding new items and features that will interest all Teresa Brewer fans. For example, you’ll see from time to time new videos in the Video Links section when they become known to us and available; new and never-seen-before pictures of Teresa, both professional and personal; fan quotes; and many other things you won’t want to miss. It’s impossible for us to let you know of each and every addition to the site. It’s best, therefore, for you to check on a regular basis all the areas of the TBC so that you won’t miss out on any of these gems!
Billy Simpson, in the Belfast (Ireland) Telegraph, entitled his lovely tribute to Teresa in a recent newspaper column, “The Day the Music, Music, Music Died.” Teresa may not be with us anymore – except, of course, in our hearts and in our memories – but her music has certainly not died. Those wonderful melodies, sung by a “voice filled with laughter and the sound of rippling water,” as pop music critic Jim Dawson has written, will linger on and on. “Listening to Teresa Brewer,” he continued to write, “you couldn’t be sad for long.” That’s a legacy few can boast.
In wrapping this up, I’d like to suggest that you go to your music library now and select some of those wonderful Teresa Brewer CDs, records and cassettes in your collection. Sit back and listen to that extraordinary singing voice, a voice that has brought you countless hours of enjoyment over all these many years. And, as an extra treat for yourself, pay a visit to Video Links section of the Teresa Brewer Center Web site and view once again those wonderful video clips of Teresa performing. Whether you’re listening or viewing – or perhaps both – always remember Teresa, her music, and the happy times.