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The Enza Severino Foundation
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Life Story / Obituary
Maria (Mary) Brandão lived a life marked by serious illnesses. She had her first open heart surgery to repair a mitral valve when she was twelve years old. That surgery was followed by four others (the last one in 2014), and brain surgery to deal with cancer. But these things did not define her. She was small (she said 5 feet, but 4’10” was closer to the mark), but remarkably strong, brave, and determined to live her life as if illness had no role to play in it. And that she did, with kindness, warmth, generosity, and elegance.
Mary’s parents and younger brother and sister immigrated to Toronto in 1966 and she decided to accompany them (even at a young age she knew her mind and was not afraid to speak it). She attended St. Anthony’s school which was across the street from her beloved Dovercourt Park. As a child, and again on visits home over the years, she loved to sit on the veranda of her parent’s home and watch children play, listen for the peals of laughter from the wading pool at the other end of the park, and greet neighbors and friends strolling by. No matter how muggy the weather in Toronto got, she claimed, it was always pleasant on the veranda, shaded by a massive rose bush, and the breeze from the park.
Mary graduated from St. Joseph’s College School and in 1983 completed her diploma in nursing from George Brown College in Toronto. In 1985 Mary wed José António (Joe) Brandão. She was the love of his life and he (so he claimed), the love of hers. She was more “meh” about it, but tolerated him well enough. Mary’s wedding day was one of the happiest of her life (if one discounts the wedding cake arriving late, the wrong seating arrangement at the head table, and the lasagna arriving lukewarm and overcooked!) Things only got better after that.
Mary worked as nurse until 1987 when Roberto António (Robert) was born (THE happiest day of her life). She had endured almost eight months of twice-daily injections to ensure her safety and that of her son and she was not going to be kept from him! While Robert was too young to be in school, she taught an after school children’s cooking class and, when he was in school, was an aide working with special needs children and then in regular classroom settings. Summers were spent with Robert and were filled with visits to libraries, parks, museums, and family and friends.
In 1998 Mary and Robert moved to Kalamazoo (reluctantly on her part, it should be noted) to join Joe who had taken a position at Western Michigan University. In time she returned to work as a teacher’s assistant in schools in Portage and Kalamazoo. She was deeply grateful to the administrators at the schools she worked at for accommodating her absences to deal with medical matters and to the staffs of those schools for their support. Both they, and Joe’s colleagues in the Department of History provided, in addition, more food than was good for either of them.
Mary loved food—cooking and eating it—and could eat without fear of getting taller or rounder. She was a wonderful cook who specialized in Italian food, with her pizza being a source of great pride for her and joy to those who got to eat it. She even kept up the tradition of canning fresh tomatoes (three to six bushels worth a year) so that her sauces would be fresh and free of preservatives (and oregano—nobody from Cosenza worth their salt puts that stuff in sauce—fresh basil only, please). She delighted in entertaining, and fussed about place settings, pairing table cloths and napkins, deciding whether it would be a formal affair or just a casual one that looked formal, and who to seat where (woe unto the person who sat without being directed as to where). Joe’s seeming inability to figure out which knives to use, and where to put them, dented her enthusiasm only slightly.
As much as Mary enjoyed cooking for others (Robert, do you want some more pasta?), she loved the company. She had a genuine curiosity about, and empathy for, people and loved having them around. Mary was not the most talkative person at the table (Joe took up too much of the air), but she loved the company, weighing in on how food was prepared (or should be!), relating stories about meals with friends in other places, and sharing recipes. The exception to that was her flan recipe—a Freedom of Information Request would not get that out of her. Joe will need to decide if Sarah, who married Robert in 2014, can be trusted with the secret. The odds are looking good for Sarah and those who love flan.
Mary was laid to rest after a funeral mass at St. Anthony’s Church in her beloved Toronto. She was confirmed and married there. Robert was baptized, and Joe and Mary celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary mass there. At Mary’s funeral, Father Tisiano, observed that each day was a gift from God, a little grace that He bestowed upon us. Mary paid a heavy price for her gift of the days she was given and which she shared with those she knew and loved. We are deeply grateful for her too-brief presence in our lives, humbled by the strength, courage, and sacrifices it took for her to be with us, and by the warmth, kindness, and selfless love that marked her actions. We are determined to honor Mary and to cherish her to the end of our own days in this world.
Maria Brandão, age 62, of Kalamazoo, MI and Toronto, Ontario, passed away Saturday September 7, 2019 at Borgess Hospital. She was born to Vincenzo and Elvira Severino on June 9, 1957 in Cosenza, Italy. Maria worked as a nurse in Toronto and over 12 years in the bilingual department in the Kalamazoo Public School System. She is survived by her husband, Dr. José António Brandão, her son Dr. Roberto António (Sarah) Brandão, her mother Elvira Severino, brother, Matteo (Angela) Severino; sister Rosa Gonçalves, sister and brother in-law Maria and Nello Del Rizzo, numerous nieces, nephews and cousins in Canada, United States, Italy and France. She was preceded in death by her father Vincenzo Severino and brother-in-law Horaçio Gonçalves. Entombment took place in Toronto, Ontario. A Memorial Service will take place at Betzler Life Story Funeral Home, 6080 Stadium Dr. 269-375-2900 on Saturday, September 21, 2019 at 2 PM with a reception to follow. Visit Maria’s personal webpage at www.BetzlerLifeStory.com where you may read her Life Story, archive a favorite memory or photo, and sign her online guestbook. In lieu of flowers, consider contributions to The Enza Severino Foundation: https://www.enzaseverinofoundation.com