In Memoriam Of An Extraordinary Woman

If Barbara were sitting here watching me write this, she’d scratch every sad, soggy, sentimental word, so in respect for her memory and our friendship I will keep it light.

It took no time for Barbara to become a close friend of mine. Poet, writer, community activist, artist, entrepreneur, and most important, friend, her independent spirit and strong character left an imprint on my life.

IMG_0889 - Version 2

IMG_5997I met Barbara at my first poetry workshop in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia. I was entranced the moment I first walked into her home, which I called the Museum, in her beloved enclave of Druim Moir. I found myself surrounded with art–sculptures made from whalebone, a gilded grand piano, a two-foot stuffed diamondback rattler, a large painting of her son as a boy sitting on a slate roof at sunset watching geese fly south hung above the mantle. Barbara’s original needlepoint, which was her passion as well as her business, filled her home. I’d sink into her sofa with pillows under either arm sporting needlepoint designs of her two Dandie Dinmont Terriors, Baxter and Fiona.

Screen Shot 2016-06-16 at 11.54.01 AMBarbara welcomed me into her life with openness and humility. In the short time we were friends I learned more about her than I know about people I’ve known my entire life. She shared with me stories of growing up on a farm in New Jersey and settling in Philadelphia, her activism during racial tensions of the 1960s, her travels, business experiences, her extensive social connections. Barbara invited my wife Joanne and I to a jazz concert at the Woodmere Museum one Friday night. She knew the band leader and at intermission over a glass of red wine she introduced us to the Museum Director. I shook my head and said to Joanne, Barbara knows everyone.

I would always tell Joanne about Barbara’s home, and one night after a poetry reading Barbara invited us in for a glass of wine and showed Joanne around her Museum while Baxter and Fiona sniffed our ankles and played.

I’m going to miss the rides we’d take to West Philly for readings and workshops–our conversations about poetry, life, the memoir she was writing. My Jeep will be quiet for a little while, but I have a sense it won’t be long before I hear her hearty laugh again, and I’ll ask her to steady my writing hand from the other side.IMG_0090

One of the conversations we’d have driving to and from West Philly was about putting our poetry collections together. I went back and read poems that Barbara had submitted to be workshopped with our group, and am taking taking the liberty to publish the first poem from Barbara’s collection. This poem makes me smile because it is based on a poetry reading we coordinated in Fairmont Park on Forbidden Drive at the historic Vally Green Inn. It was the first week of April and we had a blizzard.


Valley Green

Modest inn for travelers

on Forbidden Drive

began life

in colonial times

Meeting place

on open front porch

laughter of children playing near ducks


Woods plunging

down surrounding embankments

meet creek water

thirst quenching

Snowflakes in April

Large flat-laced flakes

delicacy undone by gravity

Bare trees silhouetted behind

white patterned curtain

ghost beauty still wanting to be seen

Poets gather

to give words


as fox tilts his head to listen

       Barbara Russell



About Jim Brennan

Jim is a Philadelphia-based writer, author, poet and editor for the Schuylkill Valley Journal.
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6 Responses to In Memoriam Of An Extraordinary Woman

  1. A beautiful tribute, Jim. Barbara sounds like a helluva lady. Had to laugh when you wrote, “Barbara knows everybody!” because I too feel like I know her from your touching memorial.

    Her poem reminds me of Prince’s hauntingly prophetic, “Sometimes it snows in April.”

    (This is Christy from the Words poetry site…just browsing around your blog; I’m enjoying it very much. I’m so jealous you saw Gary and Brittany. Love running to “Bright Lights, Big City” and “Hold On.”)


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Barbara was incredible, Christy. Full of surprises that comes with living a full life. Barbara’s poem was about Valley Green in Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, one of her favorite places. Little did she know she would never get a chance to place it.

      Thanks for browsing my blog, I’m glad you enjoyed it. And, oh yeah, Gary and Brittany tore the place up. Between his guitar and her powerful voice I could feel the heavens shake. Keep streaming those tunes.

      (must say I checked out The Lovely Fire and got hooked. Death Cab, Bob Marley, June Carter Cash and Tom Waits, seriously! Yeah, I’m following)


  2. Sophie33 says:

    What a wonderful tribute to this cool woman with her many talents.


  3. LB says:

    Jim, this is such a lovely tribute to Barbara. What a remarkable woman, a woman of many devotions and dimensions.
    Thank you for sharing her work. I read through the poem several times. The words just flow, don’t they?


    • Jim Brennan says:

      Devotions and dimensions, beautifully put, LB. Though I’ll miss her and she left us much too soon, Barbara left her mark, for sure. Barbara’s memorial yesterday was a celebration of joy and fellowship.

      Liked by 1 person

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