Floy C. Brent was a loving mother, grandmother and great-grandmother who supported and respected others’ decisions. She also had a great passion for seeing people be treated equally.
She died July 28 at age 93 in her home in Columbia, with her family at her side. She had three children, six grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren.
Her son Ed Brent and his husband lived with her in the last four years of her life in Columbia. Brent said she was congenial and had a great sense of humor about everything, even herself.
“Sometimes I asked her how she was doing, and she said, ‘I’m not dead yet,’” Brent said.
Her granddaughter Jessica Breed thought Mrs. Brent developed the ability to make a joke out of almost anything because she knew she was hard of hearing.
“I remember (in a family gathering) we were discussing what we would do if we had $1 million,” she said. “(Ed’s husband) said he would use $1 million to buy a Lamborghini for Ed. My grandma said, ‘A what?… Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were going to buy him a bikini!’”
She could be counted on to surprise people.
During World War II, when she was 17 years old, she fibbed about her age so she could work in a defense plant. Her friend, who was 18, landed a job without a hitch. But Brent was told to go home because she was too young.
She thought about it overnight and decided to go back to the plant the next day and try to speak to someone else in the hiring office. This time, she said she was old enough but that she didn’t have her birth certificate. She got the job.
After the war, she returned to Batesville, Arkansas, and earned an associate degree from Batesville College. She was a believer in education, so Ed Brent grew up knowing he would attend college.
After college, Mrs. Brent spent most of her adult life in Belton, Missouri, and worked as a quality control inspector and later unit manager at Bendix Corp. in Kansas City.
Some opportunities came her way in spite of entrenched biases toward women, her son said.
She told a story about waiting to be interviewed for the Bendix job in Kansas City and hearing everyone’s name called except hers. Finally, she was the only person still waiting.
“Then the staff came back in a few minutes and said to her, ‘Are you Floy Brent? I am looking for Floy Brent.’”
“She said, ‘I am Floy Brent,’” Ed Brent said.
They’d expected a man — not the woman with the impressive resume.
“They normally didn’t hire women,” Ed Brent said.
She ended up getting the job and worked there for about 40 years.
In 1946, Mrs. Brent met her husband, Edward Brent, who was a construction worker. They got married later that year.
After retiring in 1989 and losing her husband to cancer, Brent spent more than 30 years welcoming her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren into her home and supporting their decisions.
“What I really loved about my grandma was that she didn’t judge other people,” Breed said. “She told you what she thought, but she also would step back and let you do your own thing.”
For example, Breed said, when her parents got divorced, Mrs. Brent wasn’t happy. But, she said, “If you’re happier, then I support you.’”
Ed Brent felt that support when he decided to come out when he was 55 years old. He didn’t tell his mother until later in her life that he was gay. On the day he decided to tell her, he arrived at her home in Belton, braced for a reaction.
He told her at the door, “Mom, your son is gay.”
She looked relieved and said: “Oh, good, I was afraid it was something bad.”
Brent said he was surprised at how quickly she accepted his sexuality. His husband, Yang Rai, was embraced by the family and became a significant person to his mother-in-law.
Rai didn’t expect her to like him because they were different and he’s an immigrant. But she welcomed him. In the end, he said, they became like mother and son.
Breed wasn’t that surprised her grandmother, in spite of her generation, could accept her son because she was always open to new ideas.
“She loved learning new things, and you know it’s tough for the old people (to learn something new),” Breed said.
In the 1990s, Mrs. Brent started using computers and email, and she became active on Facebook when it came along. That’s how she stayed in touch with everybody in the family, Brent said.
She also used the computer to do genealogical research. In her last year, she made a book for all her relatives that summarized her findings.
She was also a big fan of online petitions, especially in support of equity in the world, Breed said.
“My grandmother always had very strong political opinions,” Breed said. “She always had a great passion for wanting people to be treated fairly and have good lives.”
Her progressive views had a deep impact on her son and other family members.
“She always taught us that no matter what the color of somebody’s skin was or how poor they were, they still deserved to be treated like all the rest of us,” Brent said. “So we grew up thinking (that everyone is equal).”