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.
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!”
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.
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.