Even during her final years of life, Ruth Ann Brandon had aspirations to publish a novel.
“She had this unquenchable optimism about her future,” said Mike Hupp, her younger brother. “She had these goals of writing and living independently throughout everything.”
Throughout her entire life, including a decadeslong battle with schizophrenia, Brandon wrote. She composed short stories and compiled the events of her life into journals, but mostly, she wrote poetry.
None of it was ever published; it was purely for her own benefit.
She died, at 77, following cardiac arrest on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021, in Columbia. Born Ruth Ann Hupp in 1943, she moved from Monroe City to Columbia with her family when she was a teenager, a challenging transition away from the friends and comfort of the small town she came from.
But Columbia would eventually become the home she’d return to after cycles of schizophrenia episodes and in-patient treatment in California. In Columbia, she would advocate for mental health policy reform, lecture at local universities and work at Columbia Books, where she was often paid in books that would adorn the shelves of her apartments.
“And it wasn’t light reading,” said Jerry Hupp, Brandon’s other younger brother. “She was very interested in philosophy, religion and authors that I would have struggled with.”
Jerry Hupp said he would listen to her for hours, while she wrestled with philosophical questions about higher powers and life on Earth.
While the Hupps had relatives and schoolteachers who instilled in them an appreciation for the humanities, Jerry Hupp said he believes his sister’s propensity for profound writing probably also came from somewhere deep within herself.
“She had strong ideals and hopes and dreams. But it was difficult sometimes,” he said, referring to the emotional turmoil her mental health put her through.
Mike Hupp said he could never escape the impossibility of fully understanding what his sister was going through. “Unless you experience it, you can’t know what it’s like,” he said. “She really suffered, sometimes, from paranoia and alternate realities, really powerful things, that would dominate her life for months at a time.
Jerry and Mike Hupp both said all they could really do was listen to their sister and validate her.
“It was heartbreaking sometimes,” said Priscilla Bevins, who befriended Brandon at Calvary Episcopal Church. “Sometimes, I had no idea what to do, except love her, and go to see her, and listen to her.”
Brandon also led mental health reform advocacy efforts in Missouri. She served on the State Advisory Council for the Division of Comprehensive Psychiatric Services at the Missouri Department of Mental Health from 2003 to 2008, where she helped develop the Certified Peer Specialist initiative. The initiative is still influential in the provision of behavioral health services in the state. She also served as a chair of the Missouri Mental Health Consumer Network and lectured on mental health treatment and reform at MU.
“It was extraordinary work,” Jerry Hupp said. “Most of us never get a chance to influence policy and people’s lives like that.”
Rosie Anderson-Harper, Director of Recovery Services for the Missouri Department of Mental Health, said Brandon was “a tireless advocate for individuals with mental illness who always had ideas on how to improve the behavioral health system.”
Even after her time on the SAC, Brandon would call Anderson-Harper regularly to share ideas about reaching more people with services or including more people with lived experience in policy and program creation, Anderson-Harper said.
Bevins said Brandon gave her greater empathy for the struggles that people with mental health issues must cope with.
“I have immense appreciation for her,” she said. “She kept going throughout it all. And even up until the very end, she held onto dreams of what she could do and for the book she’d wanted to write.”
Brandon divulged to Bevins that her book would involve two lovers who were torn apart during their lives but were buried next to each other in a courtyard garden resembling the one at Calvary Episcopal Church, where Brandon is buried.
Bevins remembers her friend’s vivid description of the story’s ending best, though: over time, the cotton bags that held the ashes of the two lovers would decompose and permeate the soil.
“I can’t remember the exact words she used, which frustrates me,” Bevins said. “But eventually, with the wind, the rain and the water seeping around the area, the ashes would melt together.”
While her novel remains unfinished, at the very least, Brandon’s friends and family do possess a scattering of poems and short stories she’d written from as young as 14 years old. Bevins hopes to one day organize and publish them in Brandon’s honor.
“She had wanted to be a writer,” Bevins said. “But she really already was one. And she had stories to tell.”
(Ruth’s family shared this poem of Ruth’s with the Missourian)
I wish I knew your Hell.
I wish I could be there
Inside your breath and the beat
Of your heart.
Not to console you,
For there is no consolation
But the living of it.
Not to teach you
For there is no teaching
But the path of your feet.
Not to be bigger than you
For I am only a part of the whole
That we are.
But to love you in your pain.
For the ache of it is your growth
And I want to grow with you.
– Ruth Ann Brandon
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