On Saturday April 12, 2008 Children's AIDS Foundation and the Tampa Bay community lost one of its most beloved members. Adrienne Brennan was a founding member of CAF and lived an incredible and inspirational life. She was loved by all who had the opportunity and privilege to meet her.
On April 13, 2008 Steve Otto of the Tampa Tribune published an article outlining her incredible journey through life titled "She Was The Community's Conscience". Please read this inspirational story below. Adrienne, you are missed though your spirit lives on...
She Was The Community's Conscience
By Steve Otto
The Tampa Tribune
Published April 13, 2008
As the afternoon wore on, I knew I'd made a mistake letting the woman drive. Adrienne Brennan had called, wondering whether she might take me to lunch and talk about feeding the hungry. It turned out she was, at the time, the director of Hillsborough County's Meals on Wheels program, and lunch would include driving through most of Central Tampa, dropping off meals to the elderly and people trapped in their homes.
This was back in the '70s, and I didn't realize it at the time, but Adrienne was also signing on as my personal social conscience, something I would share with a great many people through the years.
Adrienne Brennan died Saturday, and there will be a memorial service Monday evening at 7:30 at the Blount & Curry Carrollwood Chapel. The Almighty will surely have His representatives on hand.
Adrienne was expelled from her first-grade class back in Rochester, N.Y., for kicking one of the nuns at St. Margaret Mary Catholic School. It must have been a love kick because years later, after getting a bachelor's degree in Latin and then a master's at St. Bonaventure, another master's in religious studies from Fordham, and more religious studies in Tokyo, she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in Rochester and moved into the convent.
It is likely she would have remained except for recurring bouts with pneumonia and bronchitis. It reached the point that her doctor said she would have to move to a different climate if she wanted to live to be 40. That would bring her to Florida and a job as director of education at St. Paul's Catholic Church in Carrollwood.
It was around that time she made what she said was her most difficult decision. She got a dispensation from the church, releasing her from her vows as a nun to go out into the world and do the kind of social work she could not otherwise do. "It's not that I loved the church any less," she once said, "but I wanted to go to where the needs were the most and this was the only way I could accomplish it my way."
That was the Adrienne Brennan I met. She had taken the struggling Meals on Wheels program and had gotten it to the point that she even returned money from the county and put the program in the black with broad support from local churches.
From there she became director of the new Divine Providence Food Bank that the late Bob Thomas started. I remember her hauling me across the county to make sure I knew what kind of families would be getting the donated items and how the food bank was literally holding families together.
She moved on again, this time as the director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Tampa.
By now I was used to Adrienne's calls and that she took up every cause with a passion that would not let go until she had exhausted all available resources. There was a rainy afternoon at the paupers' cemetery where the county was burying an infant in an old shoebox.
There were trips out to migrant workers' trailers and visiting elderly people abandoned and unloved in nursing homes.
There were the addicts and the street people and Adrienne's belief that every soul was worth salvaging.
About 20 years ago, Adrienne's life took another, more dramatic turn when she decided she needed to adopt her own children. She applied for the neediest children that nobody else would want.
There would be three. All three babies were black and burdened with physical and emotional problems. One not only had HIV but was so sick the hospital did not think the baby would leave the place alive. The hospital didn't know Adrienne.
I mean, she loved life. She loved the New York Yankees and Chinese food. She loved Florida and taking her children to the beach to hunt for shells or smell the salt air.
But gradually she found herself overwhelmed as a single, white woman trying to raise black children in a society where she would be chastised from both sides. Adrienne, of course, ignored her own physical frailties, including a bout with breast cancer. It was lung cancer that finally took her Saturday. I don't know whether there is any way of measuring Adrienne Brennan's impact on this community, except that I know of so many lives she touched that the rest of society otherwise ignored.