On Thursday, June 20, at Western Carolina University’s University Center Grand Room, family, friends and colleagues of the late Angi Brenton gathered to celebrate the life of WCU’s former provost, who was so pivotal in expanding WCU’s future in the short time she was with the University this past year.
As guests entered the Grand Room, a line of tables displayed mementos from Brenton’s life, including awards, family portraits and countless cards sent to Brenton after she announced she was sick with pancreatic cancer.
Over 150 people, including Brenton’s husband, Keith, and members of her church, gathered near the stage to listen to WCU Chancellor David O. Belcher give the opening remarks.
Keith Brenton called to light that they were gathered to celebrate the “life well lived” of Angi Brenton, who Belcher knew for more than 16 years, working with her at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) and again more recently at WCU.
Belcher told the story of how Brenton arrived at Missouri State University in the midst of a divided and crumbling department, but left that same divided department “transformed” a year later.
Belcher acknowledged that Brenton, no matter where she worked, “institutionalized the values she displayed” and that “her love of her college came back to her in her yearly evaluations.”
“One of my fundamental regrets for WCU is that we did not see Angi in her prime on the topic of external relations,” said Belcher, referring to Brenton’s achievements in external relations at UALR.
Mark Lord, interim associate provost at WCU, met Brenton in the interview process and that “her impact is deep, far and long lasting,” despite only working at WCU for a short time.
“She demonstrated an ability to think on her feet and inspire confidence, brought a calming presence to the office, and never took herself too seriously, always poking fun at her own shortcomings,” said Lord.
Lord recounted that Brenton used to joke about her inability to remember her colleagues’ names and that, one day in her office, she called out for a man named “Brent.”
“We are still searching for Brent,” said Lord, jokingly.
Lord said that, despite the diagnosis of her sickness, she demonstrated her dedication to WCU through her courage, strength and optimism.
“We miss her but are thankful for the time we had with her,” finished Lord.
Richard Starnes, interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, first told Brenton’s husband that “you married a good woman, and we thank you for sharing her with us for a time.”
Starnes said that he developed a strong admiration for Brenton, calling to mind how passionate she was about her work and how caring she was of every person. He also said that Brenton valued the work of others, shared in the credit of their achievements, and was a calming presence.
Joking about how provosts and deans have both good and bad interactions, Starnes said that in those tough meetings Brenton both taught and collaborated.
“[Brenton] brought joy, life and passion to us,” said Starnes. “She would want us to remember her with a smile and laughter.”
Dean of the Honors College Brian Railsback said that Brenton taught him two things: always come prepared and never go over your allotted time, joking about how if a speaker would drone on about a subject too long, Brenton’s leg would start bouncing.
Railsback recalled how Brenton invited the deans to her home for Christmas last year, presenting a table full of handmade treats that looked like a catered meal.
Railsback said that before she left WCU for the last time, she whispered into her colleagues’ ears that she loved them.
Railsback left the audience with a quote for Normal Maclean’s “A River Runs Through It,” changing up the last bit, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are *hers*[Brenton’s].”
Keith Brenton also spoke, saying that the 22 years of marriage between them “was also too short a time.”
Keith Brenton expressed his appreciate and gratitude to all those in attendance for being there, and also for the cards, messages and prayers that had sustained them through their tough time.
He added that their family church helped refurbish a new house for them in the wake of Brenton’s funeral, and two dozen volunteers helped to move him and his daughter into the home.
Keith acknowledged that his wife also taught him many things throughout their time together, including forgiveness, love and that the perfect marriage is one in which the needs and desires of each other outweigh the desires of self.
“I’m convinced that the only people who will leave here sad today are those who never got a chance to meet Angi,” said Keith Brenton.
Finally, Belcher took the stage for the closing remarks, recognizing that Angi Brenton left Western Carolina University a great legacy and that “it is up to us to sustain that legacy.”