In Memoriam: Holli Brawley
<Content warning: The following In Memoriam piece contains language regarding domestic violence and suicide>
WWU Control Technician Holli Brawley, who had worked at Western since 2014, passed away on Thursday, March 31.
The circumstances surrounding Brawley’s death are particularly tragic, as she was the victim of domestic violence, with her husband then taking his own life. Her sudden passing has left many friends and co-workers across campus shaken and in the very difficult place of beginning to process their grief, in particular the members of the Facilities Management family. Many remain unable to talk about the passing of such a beloved colleague. In recognizing the loss of a treasured colleague and friend, the university also needed to take the time to work with her family and be respectful in the timing of its communication.
Holli is survived by her three sons. A donation account has been established at Peoples Bank to allow friends and co-workers the opportunity to donate funds to assist in aiding her sons. Simply walk into any Peoples Bank branch and let them know you would like to donate to the “Brawley's Children Benefit Account.”
Co-workers in FM are also investigating the potential of starting a scholarship in Holli’s name for women in the trades; when and if this scholarship fund becomes established, Western Today will share that donation link to the campus community as well.
Losses like this are hard to understand and can be even harder to talk about.
WWU Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs Joyce Lopes, who oversees FM, spoke about Brawley’s loss and what it means to her.
“I did not have the honor of working closely with Holli during my first few months at WWU, but after hearing from several of her colleagues in Facilities Management it is clear that she was a caring co-worker and skilled tradesperson and will be dearly missed. The impact of Holli’s loss highlights how much our employees in Facilities care about each other. We should all be so lucky to have colleagues, like Holli, that engender these feelings of care and connectedness,” Lopes said.
Sarah Godoy, director of Western’s Counseling & Wellness Center, said the sudden loss of a colleague in this way is difficult for any organization to bear.
“There is no singular manner or timeframe for grieving the sudden loss of a colleague or friend. Sometimes we feel their absence immediately, and sometimes it is not felt until weeks or months later. We might hold grief in our bodies as fatigue or tension, other times as a profound sadness or anger. It takes time to heal from loss, but it is possible, even under the most painful of circumstances,” Godoy said.
“People are usually able to heal by sharing treasured memories of their loved one, finding ways to honor their memory, and, eventually, establishing a way of reconnecting with their own life in a way that acknowledges the loss while still moving forward. Staying connected with others who are also grieving can be greatly helpful in this process, as it can reduce feelings of isolation. Professional support is another option, particularly for those who notice that they continue to feel detached, angry, or frightened in ways that interfere with their ability to function,” she said.
At a recent session hosted by the Employee Assistance Program, a state program designed to bring mental health services to state facilities in the wake of events such as these, Brawley’s co-workers were asked to write down their thoughts and remembrances of her, and their feelings of caring, love and collegiality were clear.
Chris Brueske, assistant director of Facilities Management, recalled sitting on the search committee that hired Holli, and remembered years later a quote that he said told you all you needed to know about who she was.
“She had one of the best interview answers I’ve ever heard. She was asked 'Why do you want to work as a fire alarm technician at Western?' And she answered, 'Because I want to keep people safe,’” Brueske said.
Are you or someone you care about not feeling safe and/or experiencing violence and abuse in your homes and relationships? If so, here is a list of resources that may be helpful:
- EMPLOYEES: https://www.dvsas.org/
- STUDENTS: https://cwc.wwu.edu/survivorservices#advocate
- STUDENTS and EMPLOYEES: https://cwc.wwu.edu/survivorservices#24hour