Peter A. Brigham


Died June 22, 2016,Media, Pennsylvania

College: Saybrook
Major: English
Graduate School: University of Michigan, M.S.W., Community Organization, 1966

Children: Stephen Jennings, 1956; Douglas Jennings, 1957; Brian Jennings, 1960; Eric Jennings, 1962
Grandchildren: Rachael Jennings-1, 1989; Sarah Jennings-1, 1989; Leah Jennings-2, 1990; Elizabeth Jennings-2, 1993; Matthew Dennis-3, 1991; Christopher Dennis-3, 1996; Stephanie Jennings-4, 1990; Bridgit Jennings-4, 1995; Ian Jennings-4, 1997

Peter Brigham Obituary

Peter A. Brigham

1939 – 2016 Peter A. Brigham, (76) of Wynnewood, PA, son of a preeminent Berkshire County civic leader and a long-time national activist in the field of burn injury, died on June 22nd, after a long fight with cancer, at Wesley Enhanced Living in Media, PA. Brigham was born in PIttsfield in 1939, the son of Crane Paper executive Henry D. Brigham and Gladys Allen Brigham, a descendant of Protestant missionaries. Following his father’s death in 1944, his mother, long an active civic leader, became one of the nations first female United Way executives, directing what is now Berkshire United Way from 1948 to 1967. The building housing program now known as Girls Inc., her first of numerous community interests when she arrived in Pittsfield in 1923, was renamed the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in her honor. Her son Peter attended local schools and served as the president of the first class to graduate from South Junior High School in 1954. Soon after graduating from Yale College in 1961, he became Berkshire County’s and Yale’s first Peace Corps Volunteer, teaching and coaching sports at a high school in Nigeria. After returning home from Peace Corps service he pursued graduate studies in community social work and social policy at the University of Michigan, eventually settling in the Philadelphia area. He soon became associated with a new organization serving the region’s network of burn treatment centers, which he directed from 1979 to 2004. He also provided a variety of staff and program services at the national level, for the American Burn Association. Brigham is survived by stepsons Stephen, Douglas, and Eric Jennings of Delaware County, PA and Brian Jennings of Puyallup, WA, their wives, and eight grandchildren and one great grandchild. His former wife Judith Trustone of Swarthmore, PA also survives. Contributions in his memory may be made to the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center, 165 East Street in Pittsfield.

Published in The Berkshire Eagle on July 3, 2016


ESSAY: Right now, I’m grateful for good health, reasonably good energy, and time to tackle long deferred writing projects and civic activities. At our age, we should be able to write in “Freed Up For _____” instead of just checking “Retired”. There are papers to write about burn injury, 15 boxes of family papers to process and archive, a local “Rails to Trails” project to support, and a world of literature and history to explore, beyond the largely Am-Brit canon of a 1961 English major/sportswriter.

How did I get here? Life After Yale began that August when a telegram from the newly hatched U.S. Peace Corps arrived just hours before I would have committed to Navy ROTC. A week later I was at UCLA, training to teach in newly independent Nigeria. Once there, I taught Latin, French and the American dialect of English to earnest, intelligent secondary school students, under a fine Nigerian principal who loved 19th century British literature.

Back home in 1964 after crossing mid-continent Africa in a VW bug (inconceivable now), I enrolled in a new M.S.W. program in community organization and social policy at the University of Michigan. My first “professional” job was a much tougher challenge than teaching at a Nigerian prep school or crossing Africa. It envisioned improving health and social services in a suburban Philadelphia county long ruled by a legendary political “War Board” which had no interest in joining the War on Poverty.

M. L. King’s assassination in 1968 inspired many new coalitions to address racial/class inequities. Our local group included an attractive, outspoken social activist with four young sons. Our marriage a year later satisfied my instinct for generativity with a ready-made family, loosened my social class bonds and thrust me, without “training” this time, into step-parenting. As others of you may have experienced, the 1970s were an especially turbulent time for many teenagers, including ours.

In 1973, I joined a non-profit agency recently formed to support the nascent field of burn care and prevention in our region, leading to a 30-year career and a major post-retirement avocation. Our comprehensive approach to the non-clinical aspects of the injury helped the fledgling American Burn Association shape its national activities in these areas. Most recently I’ve become involved in opposing the massive production and resulting bioaccumulation of flame retardant chemicals. As fetal and neonatal endocrine disruptors, their presence in upholstered furniture and other consumer products represents a major threat to the environment and public health.

Meanwhile my four stepsons have grown into good citizens and fathers with thinly stretched middle-class incomes. Their mother and I separated in 1980 and eventually divorced, though we remain good friends. For 15 years until her death in 2003, I enjoyed the companionship of an Italian teacher and opera lover who introduced me to the language, music, and hospitality of that wonderful culture, especially enjoyed in several visits to her family in Italy.

I deeply appreciate the Yale education which has helped me experience and appreciate a full life