Marta Lombardi Brown (Boston, 1947)
Today, we remember Marta Lombardi Brown (Boston, 1947). A member of the La Jolla Alumnae Chapter, she was a well-loved and highly regarded member of our sisterhood. At a beautiful 96-years old, Marta was full of spunk, vigor and love for Gamma Phi. Marta’s life and legacy were celebrated on January 22, and her dear friend and sister Cinda Lucas (Southern California) was kind enough to share her beautiful eulogy.
Marta Lombardi Brown Eulogy – January 22, 2022
There was never anyone like Marta Lombardi Brown, and perhaps there will never ever be anyone just like her. She was funny, loving, supportive and caring. She loved God and country (having served in the Navy during World War II), her children and family, her sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, and her sisters and friends.
People ask me when I first met Marta, and I honestly don’t remember. If you were a Gamma Phi Beta, you just knew her. She was a legend. She was epic and left an impact on the lives of so many people from all walks of life.
When she was nearing her 95th birthday, her daughter, Alison, thought it would be fun for Marta to receive 95 birthday cards. So, Alison started talking to family, friends and neighbors. She mentioned it to me, and I posted the idea on Facebook. Low and behold, she didn’t just get 95 cards, she got over 300 cards — an incredible tribute to an amazing lady. One of her favorite cards said, “You know you are getting old when your boobs hang so low you can get a mammogram and a pedicure at the same time.”
Marta was not your typical 96-year-old. She was sharper than a tack, well-read and watched the news nonstop. When people met her, they could never guess her age. Marta and I tried to go out to lunch once a week. For her 96th birthday, I took her to Seaport Village to a gorgeous restaurant on the Bay owned by some University of Southern California (USC) Trojan League friends, and all there were enamored by her and couldn’t believe she was 96. She always spoke to those around her and in no time, we were all friends. That was Marta.
She was a lifelong learner at U3A, the University of the Third Age at the University of San Diego. She found the programs eye-opening and stimulating and attended for over 25 years. But what she genuinely loved the most were the interactions she had with the other group members. They would talk among themselves and usually some would go out to lunch on campus after the program.
I heard in 2021, U3A was going to have the meetings on zoom so I signed Marta and me up. They would have four days once a month for three months from 8:30-11 a.m. Marta didn’t have a computer, so I brought mine and my iPad so we both could listen, watch and learn. The meetings started with Ric Matthews doing an hour of technology. Marta listened, but technology really wasn’t her thing. Then we had 15 minutes of social time in break out rooms his daughter Nicole would send us to and Marta was in heaven. I remember the first meeting — so many people were thrilled to see Marta and how well she looked and hear her strong, happy voice. She was in her element.
Seeing how much she enjoyed being connected, I got her a Google tablet, and we learned together how to use it. She could once again read her emails and write back to her collegiate chapter at the University of Boston, and they connected back with her. She was thrilled. Delta Chapter at the University of Boston is where Marta joined Gamma Phi Beta. She became vice president of the chapter, no surprise, before deciding she needed to get back to sunny Southern California and USC. She used to tell people that the only reason she got into college was because so many of the boys were at war, but I can assure you, she certainly could get in on her own merit.
Marta knew how to put the “fun” back into fundraising. In the late ‘80s, Marta decided she needed to help the Gamma Phi Beta Foundation by serving as the auctioneer after a Foundation dinner at Convention. The Foundation raises money for scholarships, grants and sisters in need. Up until that time, very little money was ever raised at Convention and Marta was going to change that.
Jerry Pollack, the Sorority jeweler at the time, was very philanthropic. Marta got on stage to tease him during one of the Foundation auctions, but she also proposed a fun way to raise money — either he would kiss her feet, or she would kiss his…I’m not sure which it was. Collegiate members loved Marta’s idea and got into the swing of raising money. Marta’s banter was the talk of Convention. And if you didn’t know her before the Foundation auction, you definitely knew who she was afterward.
One of my favorite stories was at Convention in Palm Desert, California, when Marta discovered that Steven Ford, son of former United States President Gerald Ford and a regular on the “Young and the Restless,” was staying at the same hotel. I don’t know how she found him, but she did, and she asked him if she could auction him off for a date with some collegians. She got people to start creating consortiums to get to have a date with him. In the end, Marta, San Diego State University and the University of Arizona raised $4,100. It was certainly a highlight of Convention 1988. And he was a very handsome guy who was willing to be on stage with Marta and their banter was incredible.
Marta conducted the Foundation auction for two or three different Conventions. There was a few people in “The Vatican” (Marta’s nickname for Gamma Phi Beta International Headquarters) who didn’t think auctioning off men, no matter how much money was raised, was classy and that Marta was a little too risqué for the crowd of at that time 500 various aged members, so that was the end of FUNdraising FUN RAISING for Marta. Yet, she wasn’t deterred and always helped wherever she could in promoting the Sorority and the incredible work of the Foundation.
Marta attended and was actively involved in 25 Conventions, held every biennium, so that means she attended for 50 years. She last attended Convention 2018 and got to lead the Confirmed Conventioneers Parade. You see, every year that you attend a Convention, you get to put a pink carnation (our Sorority flower) into your hat. When you have been to five Conventions, you get to walk in the parade. In 2018, Marta was the person who had attended the most Conventions and was able to lead the parade. It is a long but fun night with collegians and alumnae high-fiving everyone as they danced in the parade. Marta wanted to do it but going in circles for 30 minutes was not her idea of a good time. So, members got her a wheelchair and two alumnae pushed her as she was giving the queen’s wave the whole time and, we all know, loving every minute of it. Marta’s daughter Alison was there to experience the glee. However, the icing on the cake was Marta’s t-shirt that read, “Clara Worden’s Pledge sister.” Who is Clara Worden, you might ask? She was the first initiated member after the Sorority’s Founders established Gamma Phi Beta in 1874. Clara was named “the critic” at her first meeting. “Our dues were seventy-five cents a year,” she wrote. “We had a term tax of one dollar and our Initiation was two dollars and fifty cents. A tax of twenty-five cents was levied on all members who were absent without sufficient excuse.” I’m sure Marta liked what Clara stood for, too. The young collegians, did not know this, but the alumnae were very amused.
Marta was president of several alumnae chapters during her 75+ years of active participation in Gamma Phi Beta, including San Fernando Valley Alumnae Chapter and La Jolla Alumnae Chapter. When the convention was going to be in Palm Springs in 2020, Marta had a notebook of ideas and thoughts that she discussed with the current chair of convention at one of our La Jolla meetings. She was planning to go and we were going to be roommates yet again, but the virtual convention on Zoom was not something Marta wanted to attend, and I can’t say I blame her. Camaraderie and friendships were very important to Marta. She was always involved and served as a delegate at many conventions as a voting member. She would study everything diligently and talk to collegiate and alumnae members alike to make sure that her vote reflected their opinions and desires.
There are loads of stories about how Marta touched lives not only in the Sorority but throughout her life.
Childhood friend of Marta’s Lynette Gilbert said, “I smile every time I think of you. You were so important in my life during my junior high years. I loved your zany sense of humor, your energy and your smarts.
Visiting and staying over at your house was fascinating to an only child. There was always something fun, funny or interesting happening at the Brown House, like backward dance dinner in the big dining room, taffy pulling in your kitchen, solar ovens on the driveway and playing spoons and Crazy Eights at a beach house with all of the family at one long table. I am so grateful for you.”
Marta was a Girl Scout leader as well. Someone in her troop wrote, “Leadership in the Girl Scout troop was powerful to me. An outspoken, sometimes goofy woman taught leadership, resiliency and women’s friendship. Thanks for making scouting fun and meaningful.”
Gamma Phi Renny Hauswald welcomed Marta to San Diego more than 26 years ago and introduced her to the Assistance League of Greater San Diego, the USC Trojan League and La Jolla Alumnae Chapter of Gamma Phi Beta. Renny said, “Of course she fit in like a glove. Her generous personality, wit and intelligence, and just being beautiful Marta, made her contributions to each organization a wonderful gift. Marta epitomized what a True and Constant friend and sister can be. We are so lucky to have had her involvement with us for so many years.”
Marta was like a second mom to me. And like any mom, she made suggestions for my improvement. Most of her suggestions made sense and helped me grow as a leader and person. She was my inspiration and support. She wanted to hear me speak at USD scholarship events; she was my biggest cheerleader. I was recently in a play last October and she insisted on seeing me at the Coronado Playhouse with Alison.
One of my fondest memories with Marta was when we were rooming together at Convention, which usually falls on my birthday. I came in to change to go to a meeting prior to dinner when Marta said to me, “Stop and look around.” When I did, I saw that she had decorated the room with streamers and balloons, and in the corner of the room was a huge two-foot-tall birthday card of a gorgeous man, a hunk, wishing me the best birthday ever. I was so focused on what I was doing that I was oblivious to all the work that she had done to make my birthday special. She often told me to slow down and smell the roses. Something I need to remember.
Gamma Phi Jenna Green said, “I only met Marta once, but it is a memory I have cherished and think of often. In 2014, my senior year in Gamma Phi, I received the Angela Lombardi Award for community service at our regional Founders Day celebration. I was overwhelmed with emotion as our executive board had agreed to nominate another member and then secretly nominated me instead. Marta presented me with the award and told me it was named after her mother. I was incredibly honored to be part of this legacy. Marta was awarded her 75-year pin at this Founders Day, and now as I have continued my alumna journey as recruitment and chapter advisor, Marta’s lifelong commitment has crossed my mind a number of times over the past seven years. Her memory will not be forgotten.”
At 94, Marta had her first fall, and it was a doozy. She fell down seven steps and hit her head against the wall. Except for a bump on her head and an achy back, no real damage was done. I was with her in the hospital when a young resident came in to examine her after her fall. Marta said to the resident, “If you like sagging breasts, I am your girl.” At 94, Marta had no osteoporosis, no heart condition, no diabetes and was only taking one medication. The resident said she was going to examine her from head to toe. Marta had a huge smile on her face and said that she hadn’t been touched by a man in years, prompting the resident to proceed. She always had her incredible sense of humor and being around her always kept us laughing.
“I’m too sexy to be 80” was another shirt many remember Marta wearing because it fit her to a T. There was never anyone she didn’t make feel special. Gamma Phi Sheila Loyd shared a story at our annual Christmas alumnae party last month about the first time Sandy Petrocco of La Jolla Alumnae Chapter took her to meet Marta. Marta made Sheila feel so welcomed as she took Sheila’s hand in hers and was genuinely interested to get to know her. Sheila felt incredibly special like she was the only one in the room. Marta had that knack. When she complimented you, she gave specifics, like you are so well-informed and articulate. You always felt heard and seen by Marta.
Gamma Phi Lisa Barkett of USC said, “Marta fought on and had that Trojan Spirit and an outgoing personality, humor and wit that always made for a good time.”
Another Gamma Phi, Judy Graham, posted the other day on Facebook the following: “Today, I am missing Marta Lombardi Brown. I call Marta the Betty White of Gamma Phi Beta because she was funny, irreverent and loved dearly by all. She lit up our lives with fireworks of laughter. Our circle is diminished but our hearts are full. True and Constant Marta.”
I could go on forever with stories about Marta, and I’m sure you’ve heard enough. Truly, this was one great lady who was loved by all who knew her. She spoke to new members of Gamma Phi Beta about loyalty and what it meant to be a True and Constant friend to all.
I was so blessed to have had Marta in my life for much of my adult years. Some people come into your life and quickly go while others leave footprints on your heart, and you are never, ever, the same again. I miss and love you, Marta, and I know that you are organizing, planning and loving everyone you are meeting in heaven and keeping them laughing. We love and will miss you greatly.