Linda Brunn, social justice activist and volunteer for countless causes in Northwest Philadelphia, died March 25 at Einstein Medical Center, where she was undergoing care for a recurrence of metastatic cancer.
She and her fellow activist husband of 57 years, Dennis Brunn, lived in Mt. Airy for 44 years before moving, in 2018, to the Cathedral Village retirement complex in upper Roxborough.
Linda met Dennis at Brandeis University, where she graduated with honors. The daughter of a prominent Unitarian minister, The Rev. Edward Cahill, Linda grew up in Charlotte, N.C., and Atlanta. Her early experience with the civil rights movement included meeting legends Whitney Young, Coretta Scott King and Julian Bond, which influenced her career and community activism throughout her life.
She gave her talents freely for over 40 years to the Unitarian Society of Germantown, where she played many roles, including serving on the board of directors. She also served on the board of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee.
In her professional life, Linda, who earned a master's degree from the Wayne State University School of Social Work in Detroit, was a clinical social worker, having directed programs at Episcopal Community Services, Family Services of Philadelphia, Jewish Family and Children’s Services, United Methodist Children’s Services and the Northwest Interfaith Movement. She was particularly skillful in creating programs that serve families dealing with poverty and discrimination.
“I am still hardly believing that Linda is gone, and I don't feel very coherent, but I most want people to know that Linda was truly dedicated to helping those in need, particularly poor and marginalized families, throughout all of her volunteer and professional life,” said husband Dennis Brunn, 79, who was also a social worker, community organizer and activist with numerous nonprofits.
At Episcopal Community Services of Philadelphia, Linda Brunn was instrumental in strengthening a program linking prisoners serving life sentences with their families and at Northwest Interfaith Movement (now Neighborhood Interfaith Movement), she supervised an ombudsman program that reached out to nursing homes. Later, she led an effort in West Philadelphia to provide training to low-income daycare providers who often worked out of their own homes, and at Methodist Children's Services, she was very active in a coalition of child-focused agencies that negotiated for more support from Philadelphia and the state.
“Beyond her professional roles, she was an incredible listener, supporter and trusted friend to many in our Mt. Airy neighborhood, in our church, among work colleagues and in our current home,” Brunn said. “She was always a relationship builder and trusted friend. She had the most beautiful smile and gave great warm hugs, right up to her very last days when cancer became overwhelming.”
Linda was also active in the Henry H. Houston School parents’ organization and other neighborhood associations. At Cathedral Village, she enjoyed participating in college classes, the Black Arts Festival and the Thrive Committee of the Residents’ Association. Her lifelong love of reading, writing and poetry continued to flourish there.
Linda was a gifted cook and nourished many through the meals she provided as well as her caring friendship. She often shared her insights and wisdom privately with people who were facing personal challenges.
“My mother offered me lots of support and love all my life. She often expressed how proud she was of me as a mom and wife and in my career,” said the Brunns' daughter, Jennifer, who was called Jenny by her mom. “Throughout my life, we would engage in meaningful conversations, and she would often be a sounding board about whatever challenges were happening in my life, or would happily listen to me talk at length about her grandson, whom she adored.
“I had many fun memories hanging out with her and my dad, going to the movies or theater and summer vacations in New England,” Jennifer continued. “She was a role model for me as a woman who had a meaningful career, deep connections with others and a love for her family. And above all, the love, loyalty and friendship that my mother and father shared is inspiring. I loved her and will miss her very much.”
In addition to Dennis and Jennifer, Linda Brunn is survived by Jenny's husband Ecco Adler, grandson Nico and foster son Phuc Nguyen. There will be a memorial service for Linda on May 19, 2 p.m., at the Unitarian Society of Germantown, 6511 Lincoln Drive. Donations in her memory may be sent to the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee, PO Box 808, Newark, NJ 07101-0808.
Len Lear can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org