On November 20th Michael Brannan, our family’s rock, passed away at the age of 73 surrounded by the love of his family. He is survived by Deborah, his beloved wife and friend of 50 years; Christina, his darling daughter and light of his life; his adored son-in-law, Jon, whom he couldn’t have loved more if he were his own flesh and blood; his faithful dog Winchester, who tried to keep him spry by walking him as often as possible and sometimes even sharing a tree to pee on; five grandcats whom he adored and spoiled rotten every chance he got, a brother, two sisters, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins whom he was always so proud of and loved his whole life. While we are deeply saddened that he is no longer with us, we want to honor him by sharing how he lived more than how he passed.
He grew up in church and spent most of his childhood as an altar boy which taught him deep caring for all people and the ability to swear in Latin - both of which he continued to demonstrate throughout his lifetime. In his 20’s, he became a machinist for Naval Research Lab and made parts for space ships and other things. Living in the DC area, he loved taking people to the Smithsonian’s Air and Space Museum and point at things that he made. It may have just been a special type of bolt or metal plate or something, but to his daughter there is a museum full of stuff her dad had made. Throughout his lifetime, he worked several different types of jobs. Some jobs he liked more than others, but he always made sure his family was taken care of no matter what.
Eventually, he retired and like his father before him, he only enjoyed leisure time for a short because he wasn’t the type to be idle. He needed to do something new before he got on everyone’s nerves. He decided to become a CNA, which was completely different than anything he’d ever done for work before. He loved it because it spoke to the caring nature within his soul. He chose to work at a state facility because it broke his heart knowing that most of the patients there didn’t have family and he didn’t want them to be alone. Even though it was difficult for him, he preferred the wards with Alzheimer’s and dementia patients because he absolutely loved children and those patients to him were just bigger children. He always referred to his patients as “his babies”. In addition to his regular duties, he spent downtime during his evening shifts sitting by their bedsides, holding their hands, reading them one of his favorite Russian novels, or sitting with them in a rocking chair to sooth them when they were agitated. He had a gift.
As it eventually does, time took its toll on him and eventually he retired again this time concentrating all of his energy into doting on his family and anyone around him in need. He was always feeding people. If he saw a stranger who was hungry, dad was making sure they had food. We have many stories of him buying groceries and filling up refrigerators for people he came across especially if they had children because he couldn’t bear the thought of a child suffering in any way. If you were in his circle, you were going to be doted over. He would bring trinkets of things he thought you’d like. He was like a crow that way. It would not be unusual to come home to bags of wood chips for the smoker, or some tool or gadget he had dropped off that he thought we’d like. He’d bring stuff for friends too like fancy chopsticks, a nifty can opener, etc. It was just how he showed he cared. If he really liked you, you got a flashlight or a knife as those were his two favorite things. He would frequently show up to his daughter’s office with donuts and such for her and her co-workers. During his many stays at his daughter’s house she’d often come home from work to find the dining room table filed with various goodies he’d bought for her to share with friends.
He loved the outdoors and when he was younger he spent lots of time roaming the woods in his beloved West Virginia where he was also surrounded by extended family that he loved so much. He was an avid hunter/fisher although in later years we joked that he never caught anything other than a cold. He was a competitive marksman, so it wasn’t that he would miss. The truth is, as he got older he just didn’t have the heart to shoot anything. When he would take his daughter hunting she wondered why he never gave her bullets, but it didn’t take long to realize why. He’d see deer and say something like, “that one’s too small” or “it looks too scared”, or “It’s too big to carry that far back to the truck”. The truth was, he just liked being outside and spending time with his daughter. He changed his outdoor activities to camping and during the last few years would go camping either by himself to enjoy some quiet solitude or with his daughter when he wanted to laugh.
Because of his sweet nature, children always loved him. He could always be seen waving and smiling to little kids and making them giggle. His happy place would be a room of children, and this was one of the many reasons why he was such an incredible Dad. He genuinely loved everything about being a father and shared his paternal love and wisdom with everyone and anyone who needed it. Many people considered him to be a dad to them too, which he absolutely loved it. He especially loved doing things with his son-in-law, Jon. He loved giving him “dad” advice about things and telling him stories to make him laugh. They would sit for hours on the sofa watching tv and chatting while each having a cat or two on their laps. He loved teasing Jon about all of the stickers on his car often saying that, “Stickers must make it go faster.” They would often go out for breakfast like all of the other little old men, and we called it the ROMEO club (Retired Old Men Eating Out) which they both loved. The most beautiful moment was when his daughter told him she and Jon were getting married, he was so happy that he just beamed and said, “Now I’ll get to introduce Jon as my son.”
Being a friend to all wasn’t limited to people. He could often be seen walking his dog Winchester all around the neighborhood and local parks. They did this several times a day along with their trips to Hardees for a breakfast biscuit which he would split with the dog by giving him the sausage part of the biscuit. Thanks to social media, many people have seen how much he doted over his grandkitties. He was always bringing them toys and treats and the cats would fight with each other over who got to sit on his lap. When he took his daughter to his favorite camping site this summer, he told her to “Make sure to be nice to Willy”. Willy is a grumpy old black bear that lives near where he camped. Dad said Willy would come to check on him whenever he camped; he never bothered anything, and only just wanted to say hello. Apparently, Dad would sit there and talk to the bear like old friends. Willy wasn’t the only strange animal friend he had. When he worked night shifts as a CNA, he would take walks in the evening with his friend Snowball who was an albino skunk. Dad loved snowball and they could always be found together outside. He said Snowball protected him from the other animals on their walks and would chase away anything that got too close to him including sometimes his co-workers.
Dad was a voracious reader and in addition to his love of Russian novels, he loved history. He especially loved Egyptian and Greek history. He was absolutely horrible to watch any sort of movie about either because he would tear them to shreds with what they got wrong. The Mummy in particular always used to rile him up to the point that his family spent most of the movie time laughing at him instead of enjoying the movie. He was affectionately known to his family as “Lowes on wheels” because he drove around with nearly every sort of tool imaginable in the back of his truck. He could fix anything and with the creation of Google and YouTube he really could fix nearly anything. He always told the best stories, and Jon often described him as “pee in your pants funny.”
During the past few years his health began to decline and it became time for him to be doted over for a change. That was a difficult transition for him, but eventually he relented if only a little bit. He was in and out of the hospital frequently, and we teased him as if he had some sort of weird quota for collecting the most deadly ailments-often multiple at a time. Among some of his collection was: open heart surgery, COVID, ruptured appendix, sepsis, multiple forms of cancer, several surgeries, and chemo just to name a few within the past few years. In spite of that, he never lost his humor no matter what challenge he faced. He was always amused when the doctor would walk in to find us laughing and joking and then begin franticly looking at his chart thinking he had the wrong patient. They’d always ask, “How are you even alive?” He’d come back saying something like, “Damned if I know.” Because of his humor and his sweet personality, he was well known by many of the Centra medical staff especially at Bedford Memorial Hospital. Everyone adored him. We were fortunate that Jon works at the hospital and was able to constantly check on him when he was there. Jon made sure that everyone knew that was his father-in-law, and instructed everyone “white glove” whenever he was in the hospital. I don’t think a single person got better treatment when in the hospital. He was everyone’s favorite patient, and they always commented on how sweet he was to them. Whenever he would be discharged from the hospital, he would always insist that we go buy bags of good chocolate for the nursing team who saved his life yet again.
But a person can only cheat death so many times. He was lucky that he got to spend his last week doing so many things he loved doing. He shopped for tools and spent time laughing and talking with his daughter while she raked up leaves for him at his home; he went out for seafood at his favorite restaurant with his son-in-law, and they ate crawfish and scallops until they couldn’t eat any more; he ate his favorite donuts after his chemo treatment, and spent time at home with his wife happily doing normal day to day things. He spent his time doing what he wanted with all of the people he loved. The last time his daughter heard his voice it was of him saying how great he felt and how happy he was.
While he left this world suddenly, he was surrounded by love during every moment of his transition. Per his wishes, there will be no formal funeral service. He just didn’t want anyone to be sad, and we will respect his wishes. Even though he is no longer physically here with us, we will carry him with us always. His wife carries a lifetime of memories shared together; his daughter carries his unstoppable spirit, ability to fix things, as well as his sarcasm and humor to be used at the most inappropriate of times; his son-in-law carries his fashion sense of being year-round cargo shorts guy (because you need pockets), with a knife and flash light always at the ready along with the phrase, “let me get my tools”. His grandcats carry weight of way too many treats that cause their vet to fuss. Everyone who knew him carries stories of ways he helped them, or made them laugh. We are so sad that he had to leave us, but we were all so very blessed that he lived.
Tharp Funeral Home & Crematory, Bedford, is assisting the family.