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Kathryn Juel Weibel Brookins ’57

July 25, 2020, in Boston, Massachusetts, from complications induced by Alzheimer’s dementia.

The only child born to Frank and Irene Weibel, Kathryn started out in North Platte, Nebraska. The family moved frequently, as her father was an engineering mechanic who worked on large infrastructure projects then being constructed in the Pacific Northwest. Frank died when Kathryn was 20 years old, and from then on, she and her mother were seldom apart.

After graduating from Gresham High School, Kathryn attended Reed for one year before marrying her first husband, Cliff Lloyd ’57, with whom she had four children. With keen intellectual curiosity and considerable personal courage, she overcame the disadvantages of an uneven academic background to earn a degree in social anthropology through Nuffield College at Oxford University, studying with such luminaries as English anthropologist E.E. Evans-Pritchard. Kathryn went on to teach sociology at Purdue University and Buffalo State College.

In 1973, she married Oscar Brookins in Ghana, forming an exemplary, 47-year partnership. Initially they lived in Buffalo, New York, and then moved to South Bend, Indiana, where Oscar was on the faculty at the University of Notre Dame. Ten years later, they moved to Massachusetts, where Oscar taught at Northeastern University. Their two daughters were born overseas during short-term academic appointments in Ghana and Tanzania.

Kathryn liked to say she was a student of politics, and as a Boston resident she was deeply engaged with both local and national issues. Known in local circles as fearless and vocal, she never backed down from a battle when she felt fairness and the law were on her side—no matter how prominent or deep-pocketed the adversary. In her Mission Hill neighborhood, she worked to bring about fair laws for small property owners and the consistent enforcement of zoning regulations to protect green space and livable housing from overzealous developers.

She was passionate about the enforcement of anti-bias in housing laws and opposing racial discrimination in education. Long before the term “white privilege” became current, Kathryn was acutely aware of her advantages as a middle-class, highly educated white woman and fiercely advocated for the fair treatment of all. She fought for Black and otherwise disadvantaged family members, friends, and neighbors across the legal, political, and educational systems she knew were inherently stacked against them.

For many years, her self-published newspaper, Mission Hill News, was a political newspaper that documented the predatory policies of Harvard University and the City of Boston in their fragile urban neighborhood. She and Oscar scrambled late into the night to meet their printing deadline and Kathryn proudly distributed the final product directly to prominent elected officials all over Boston City Hall. 

Outside the political arena, Kathryn loved her dogs, gardening, foreign travel with her husband and children, and her lifelong connections to family and friends around the globe. She teared up when she watched the Kentucky Derby, as it reminded her of the horses that had populated her childhood, and she loved to celebrate her birthday by handing out Halloween candy to neighborhood children. She often said hers had been a charmed life, full of lucky breaks and exceptional opportunities to which she always said “yes.”

Kathryn is survived by her husband, Oscar T. Brookins, and her six children: Anamaria Lloyd, Clifford Lloyd, Elisabeth Fulton, Ariana Packard, Mary Laura Brookins, and Julia Brookins.

Appeared in Reed magazine: December 2020

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