Tears prick my eyes as I write this. I’m thinking of two formidable women in my life, one 88 years old, the other 96 years old. You don’t know these women. They’re not famous. But both have met considerable challenges in their lives and remained compassionate.
Margaret Brown, later known as the “Unsinkable Molly Brown,” also had challenges. She was born to Irish immigrants in Hannibal, Missouri and left school at age 13 to work in a factory. She and her brother followed their dreams to Leadville, Colorado, lured by tales of mining discoveries.
At age 19, she married the 34-year-old J. J. Brown, then a mining engineer. Her husband, while working as a mine superintendent, discovered gold, and the owners rewarded the Browns with a significant amount of shares in their company. They became millionaires.
As a rich woman, Brown could have spent her life in society and have done nothing notable. But that wasn’t who she was. She had worked in soup kitchens in Leadville. When she and J.J. moved to Denver, she joined city reformers to install public baths in the courthouse for the poor and worked to create more public parks.
She was traveling in Europe when she heard her grandson was ill, and she booked the first ship home, the Titanic. On the fateful night of April 14th, 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg. Brown was hustled into Lifeboat No. 6, built to hold 65 people, but filled with only 21 women, two men, and one boy. According to legend, Brown urged the lifeboat to go back and save more people, but was opposed by a crewman in charge of the lifeboat. She threatened to throw him overboard.
She took an oar and helped row the lifeboat to the passing ship Carpathia, which had diverted its course to rescue survivors. Even while still on board the Carpathia, Brown raised $10,000 from the Titanic’s wealthy first class survivors to help the poorer second and third class survivors.
Brown once said, “It isn’t who you are, nor what you have, but what you are that counts.”
These two older women in my life may never have heard of Brown’s quote. Nevertheless, what they are is both are strong and compassionate.