A Father’s Day love story: Wendell and Marge Brady

Margret and Wendell Brady were Morristown High School sweethearts. Wendell died this month, a few weeks shy of his 85th birthday.
Margret and Wendell Brady were Morristown High School sweethearts. Wendell died this month, a few weeks shy of his 85th birthday.
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For decades, Margret Brady has spoken her mind in Morristown, fearlessly taking on the powers-that-be as an activist, councilwoman and volunteer.

But this crusader credits her voice to a silent partner: Wendell Brady, the man she married soon after high school.

“He’s my strength. I seem to have the ability to speak but if I didn’t have him…,” she said at Christmas 2017.

H. Wendell Brady Jr. died at home on Wednesday, June 13, 2018, after a long illness. He was a just over a month shy of his 85th birthday.

Wendell Brady, near the end of his life, with his wife Marge.
Wendell Brady, near the end of his life, with his wife Marge.

The Morristown High graduate (Class of ’52) liked to joke that he was born in Burger King Plaza, where the hospital was located in 1933. He was the oldest of eight children, and was protective of them.

Though mellow in later years — his wife coaxed him to trade a scowl favored by his mother for a smile, to great effect– Wendell was a tough customer in his youth.

“You have to stick up for yourself,” he told his son Mark, even if it meant getting beat up. “They’ll respect you!”

Marge, a year behind Wendell at MHS, fell for him during dates at the Florham Park roller rink. But his short fuze gave her pause in the early days. He was prone to chasing motorists who cut him off in traffic– even while en route to his honeymoon.

As Marge tells it, a cop pulled them over that day, saw her crying into her corsage, and gave Wendell a talking to. “You have responsibilities now. You’re married!” 

THE BRADY BUNCH, circa 1990: Front from L: Margret and Karen. Back: Mark and Wendell.
THE BRADY BUNCH, circa 1990: Front from L: Margret and Karen. Back: Mark and Wendell.

Wendell eventually tamed his temper, though not necessarily because of the police lecture. “He got tired of me being hysterical,” Marge recounted with a laugh.

When Wendell was a boy, his parents, Howard W. Brady Sr. and Evelyn Cole Brady, moved the growing family to a number of local neighborhoods, finally settling in a home on Chestnut Street at the base of Fort Nonsense, part of the Morristown National Historical Park.

Wendell led his pals there in various sports. By age 17, his interests turned to cars…and Saturday nights at the roller rink. “He was a really good skater,” remembered Marge, who was the bashful one. Wendell, she said, hung out with the “hoods.”

“No one in high school could’ve imagined that the two of us would be together,” Marge said.

Wendell was funny, and frugal. When Marge’s senior prom approached, she asked him what color to make her dress.

WEDDING DAY, 1954: Margret and Wendell Brady.
WEDDING DAY, 1954: Margret and Wendell Brady.

“You better make it white,” Wendell replied, “because you’ll never be able to afford a white wedding dress when we get married.”

They wed in 1954, and began planning to build a house on a lot they purchased in Morris Township.

Careful spending, and good communication, explained why the marriage endured, Wendell reflected toward the end of his life.

“We don’t spend money on large items without consulting one another,” he said.

“Like, a lot of my friends had motorcycles. I wouldn’t dare just go out and buy a motorcycle. First, because it would be too extravagant for our budget. And second, I’ve got the scars to prove why I shouldn’t have a motorcycle,” Wendell continued, hiking up his trouser leg to reveal evidence of the crash, as a passenger, that kept him off the high school football team.

Marge confirmed the formula.

“There were never any surprises,” she said last year, “because we both knew each other and we were honest with each other.” 

And a little feistiness never hurt.

“We’re not afraid to fight with each other,” Marge said. 

‘LOOK FOR THE SIMPLE THING FIRST’

Wendell began his printing career as a truck driver. He rose through the ranks to head the billing and estimating departments at Compton Press and later MCD, where he worked until his retirement in 1999.

Tapping his natural mechanical ability, he built the family’s first home, while daughter Karen watched from her playpen. Mark came next.

The Bradys, circa 1980: Mark, Margret, Wendell and Karen.
The Bradys, circa 1980: Mark, Margret, Wendell and Karen.

Wendell enjoyed teaching kids in Indian Guides, Scouts, Sunday School, and around the neighborhood, and never missed a Little League game or school play. He wasn’t big on fatherly speeches, but he imparted practical wisdom that stuck with his son.

“He told me how to fix stuff,” said Mark, a chef. “Look for the simple thing first.

Like his wife, Wendell never shied away from controversial causes. Before moving the family to Morris Plains in 1966, he backed the lawsuit that would force the merger of the Morristown and Morris Township schools.

He also helped lead the fight to prevent the Morristown United Methodist Church from moving to the Township, where he feared access would be limited for the elderly and children needing church services.

LAST CHRISTMAS: Wendell and Marge, 2017. Photo by Berit Ollestad.
LAST CHRISTMAS: Wendell and Marge, 2017. Photo by Berit Ollestad.

When the church stayed put, he made a statement by moving his family back to Morristown. Wendell and a brother bought an older home in need of major TLC.

“At that time, much development was in the works, and older homes were being demolished. Neighborhoods were threatened,” said longtime friend and neighbor Faith Teeple.

“Marge and Wendell called a meeting at their house, and thus the Franklin Corners neighborhood came to be,” said Teeple. She described Wendell as a welcoming host. “He was able to make folks feel special and good about themselves.”

Wendell managed both of Marge’s successful campaigns for an at-large seat on the town council. At some meetings he was the only audience member, earning him the nickname “Mr. Morristown.”

willow hall
Willow Hall in Morristown has been designated on the National Register of Historic Buildings. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

Over the years, Marge would stand up to politicians and developers, advocating for Franklin Corners and serving on boards of the Morristown Parking Authority and Willow Hall, a place dear to their daughter, who succumbed to cancer in 2008.

Wendell always was nearby to lend a hand or a sympathetic ear.

“She keeps you on your toes,” he mused about his wife on her 80th birthday. “She’s always got something going on. She’s never for the lack of a project or cause.”

Eric 'Fluffy' Glover, right, with Wendell and Marge Brady at 2013 Festival on the Morristown Green. Photo by Berit Ollestad
Eric ‘Fluffy’ Glover, right, with Wendell and Marge Brady at 2013 Festival on the Morristown Green. Photo by Berit Ollestad

Did he agree with those projects?

“Not always. But for the most part they turn out okay. She kind of knows what to push for and what not to,” he said, with a grin.

Wendell was Marge’s secret weapon, the behind-the-scenes guy who “gave Marge the courage and strength to do the things she believed in,” Teeple said.

Linda Stamato and Wendell and Marge Brady at Morristown reorganization meeting, New Year's Day 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin
Linda Stamato and Wendell and Marge Brady at Morristown reorganization meeting, New Year’s Day 2018. Photo by Kevin Coughlin

“They were always able to talk, share, laugh, cry, squabble and disagree. Wendell’s support, encouragement, and love for Marge sustained her through all the years of their marriage and also sustained her service to the town, which still continues to this day.

“Wendell was her strength, her rock. Never was a couple more devoted, supportive and accepting of each other.” 

 

‘ALL HE WANTED FROM LIFE’

Marge stood by Wendell, too, when he was the star witness against a corporate raider who plundered Compton Press. The raider went to jail, and Wendell stayed with the sinking ship to help workers and axed employees find new jobs, and to help clients and vendors protect their assets.

DATE NIGHT: Wendell and Marge seldom missed a council meeting. Photo by Berit Ollestad
DATE NIGHT: Wendell and Marge seldom missed a council meeting. Photo by Berit Ollestad

For 25 years, Wendell quietly worked at the polls, making sure voters were treated with dignity and respect.

When he learned he was a descendant of several of New Jersey’s oldest and most distinguished families, it piqued his interest in preserving local historic sites. He joined many neighborhood quests to revert offices in historic homes to residential use, and never flinched at knocking on doors to solicit support for causes he deemed worthy.

One of them was Willow Hall. It gave him great joy to celebrate his daughter’s memorial service there, after helping his wife lead efforts to defeat a proposed development.

Wendell never sought glory or thanks, Marge said.

“He was someone who loved Morristown and his family and friends. That was all he wanted from life. He never wanted to be important or rich. He just wanted to take care of his family and his neighborhood and his town.”

It started on roller skates, this love story, and it took many spins around the rink. One of Marge’s favorite memories sums it up.

Serving on the council in the ’80s, Marge voted against some shady characters…who scrawled death threats in bathrooms at town hall.

After the council meeting, she and Wendell argued over who should go start the car—in case it was rigged with a bomb.

Marge insisted it was her responsibility. Her vote caused the predicament, after all. Nonsense, Wendell said. She had done the right thing, and he backed her 100 percent.

Round and round they went. Finally, Wendell and Marge resolved the dilemma the same way they faced everything else.

They went together.


 

Wendell Brady is survived by his wife, Margret; his son Mark and daughter-in-law Janet; his brother William and his wife Laura; his sister Beverly, her husband Brian Rongo and their family; his brother David, his wife Ann and their family; and brother Mark, his wife Marcella and their family. He also is survived by the families of his late brother Ronald; and by his late sister Barbara’s husband, Robert Martin and their children. His brother James also predeceased him.

Family and friends are invited to gather at 3 pm on July 15, 2018, to celebrate what would have been Wendell’s 85th birthday, at Willow Hall, 330 Speedwell Ave., Morristown 07960.

In lieu of flowers, donations of volunteer hours or funds to the Wendell and Karen Brady Memorial Fund, at the Passaic River Coalition, 330 Speedwell Ave., Morristown NJ 07960, would be appreciated.

Correspondent Berit Ollestad contributed to this story.

Wendell Brady's mom disparaged his smile, but his wife Marge knew better. Photo by Berit Ollestad
Wendell Brady’s mom disparaged his smile, but his wife Marge knew better. Photo by Berit Ollestad
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10 COMMENTS

  1. Beautiful story, Marge, I’m so glad I knew you and Wendell . Many memories. Had a lot of fun with the Brady Family. My sympathy to You ,Mark, Bill, David and Mark.

  2. Wendell felt so fortunate to have discovered his actual great grandfather and a whole family of new relatives so late in life. He would love to have his cousins Lynn meet other family members, and enjoy the place he came to love so much. The birthday memorial will take place on July 15th at 3 PM, at Willow Hall, the historic site where some of his ancestors had worked and learned .the blecksmith and iron workers trade centuries ago.

  3. I’ve known Wendell since local telephone numbers were seven digits long. All that time he was a tinkerer and fixer and he got me to follow along. It started with clothes washing machines. I had a problem with one and he came right over, took apart my machine, and fixed it. That was when he started me on the fix-it phase of home ownership.
    He talked me into getting a Maytag (used) because they were the most reliable and easiest to fix. He would also pick up Maytags along the road to save for parts which helped both of us. Thanks to Wendell, my Maytag lasted over 20 years, with do-it-yourself repairs.
    His “fix it up” leadership was invaluable for me keeping up with our 100 year old Victorian home: electric, plumbing (repair old pipes and install new copper water lines), painting (Marge helped us paint and wallpaper many rooms) and more.
    And then there are cars. For a family car Wendell liked the classic Volvo 240 wagon. He talked us into liking the same car and turned us on to “Volvo Larry” the area’s premier Volvo repair shop. I think we both drove Volvo wagons for over a decade.
    For his own car Wendell loved the El Camino, a Chevrolet classic combination car and truck. He would find one in pretty good shape and fix it up, again finding parts from who knew where. I don’t know how many he had, but they were his passion and pride and joy.
    I remember once sitting on his porch and he was showing me a lamp he rewired. I think it was an antique or close to it. I don’t remember all he did to the lamp but I do remember the smile on his face, a smile of satisfaction for taking something and fixing it.
    Now the days of fix-up and repair are pretty much gone. With all of the electronics it’s just easier to buy new. But still, whenever I have a problem I think of Wendell: “Let’s take the cover off and take a look.”

  4. Marge,
    My cousin , Bill DeGroodt, sent me the article. What a wonderful tribute to Wendell. I feel truly blessed to have met him. I would very much like to attend his service at Willow Hall. Let me know if you think Wendell would approve.
    Sincerely, Lynn Richter

  5. So sorry to hear about Wendell, Mrs. Brady. But, wow, what a beautiful story and I just loved seeing the pictures of the whole family. May God provide comfort to you and your family in this time of sorrow. Rest assured, Wendell is with God and Karen now. Please let me know if I can help in anyway. God bless you.

  6. Although Wendell’s memory for day to day details was gone, he never forgot those he knew and cared about and that kept him going. Seeing someone he new always brought a smile to his face and he received much love in return.

  7. Thank you for giving readers the “back story” on Wendell and Marge. Their presence and love: for one another, for this neighborhood and for Morristown as a whole, have made indelible footprints for us to walk in.

    pam hasegawa

  8. I lived at the Brady’s house for 5 years. Marge and Wendell were the salt of the Earth. Two finer people don’t exist. I feel lucky to have seen Wendell just last Saturday. He said to me “I remember you ‘. Wendell will be missed by all who knew him.

  9. Thank you Kevin for this fine tribute . Today, Father’s Day also marks the 65th anniversary of the day Wendell and I were engaged, when he met my school bus on the last day of school and gave me my ring as I got off the bus, then ran back to the corner of Washington and Mills Street to his job at the gas station.

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