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“Feast on Your Life”: Remembering Joellen Brown

April 9, 2019 • Scott McMurray

On April 6, family, friends and coworkers gathered on a brilliant spring afternoon in Philadelphia to celebrate the life of Joellen Brown. History Factory lost a trusted collaborator and friend with the passing of Joellen, who died late last month at the age of 65 following a tragic accident near her Rittenhouse Square home. Joellen, who retired at the end of 2017 as executive director of Verizon’s executive communications team, played a key role in helping us produce Verizon Untethered (Post Hill Press, 2018), the story of the creation of Verizon Communications under CEO Ivan Seidenberg and his team.

Joellen was Seidenberg’s confidant on all things concerning communications, from speeches to annual reports. It was a role that the ace wordsmith filled effortlessly. Joellen earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Ohio Wesleyan University and a master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. She joined what was then Bell Atlantic Corp. on January 1, 1984, the birthday of the so-called Baby Bells that were created with the breakup of AT&T. Bell Atlantic was one of Verizon’s predecessor companies.

In helping shepherd Verizon Untethered through the creative and publishing process, Joellen was a relentless fact-checker. She also had perfect pitch when it came to the nuance necessary to help me, as an author and fellow English major, guide valuable anecdotes through corporate gauntlets and into print.

When I first met Joellen three years ago, we talked in her spacious downtown Philadelphia office — an overlooked haven dating to the days of phone company office sprawl — and then went out for lunch. Rheumatoid arthritis caused her to walk with a cane but otherwise didn’t slow her down. She had no time for self-pity. We swapped stories at a nearby café, launching a close working relationship that expanded to include friendship as days gave way to months, and finally years. Her first year of retirement was mostly devoted to caring for her dying mother back in her hometown of Columbus, Ohio, and then seeing to her estate.

Joellen’s future plans, including pursuit of her passion for painting, were cut short not far from where we walked to lunch that first day: A truck accidentally backed into her on a Philadelphia sidewalk. Story after story at her memorial testified to the fact that her memory lives on in the hearts and minds of family, friends and associates across the country.

The program for the memorial service included a poem from Derek Walcott, one of Joellen’s favorite poets, that captures her love of life.

 

Love After Love
By Derek Walcott

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

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