Writer, poet, historian and gourmand Brewster Chamberlin died at the age of 81 on Nov. 12, 2020, in Key West, Florida, his home since 2001. He and his wife, Lynn-Marie Smith, previously lived in Washington, D.C., where he worked for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum since its inception.
Brewster was a storyteller extraordinaire. He liked to say that he was known and appreciated by a small circle of cultured cognoscenti. These readers often told him that they enjoyed his narrative style and witty commentary on the foibles of his characters. Friends and relatives also found pleasure in attempting to identify themselves in his fictional characters.
He dated his writing career from age 14 when he wrote several pages of a story in the manner of the last chapter of Mickey Spillane’s “I, the Jur”y for a classmate named Cynthia, also an aspiring writer. His first published work appeared in The Gloucester Times in 1959. It was a poem commemorating the 1956 Hungarian anti-communist rebellion that had been crushed by Soviet tanks.
After completing work on a Ph.D. in Modern European History at the University of Maryland, Brewster anticipated a career in the groves of academe. In fact, his life and work took a much broader path. He served as an historian, archivist, university teacher, lecturer and also wrote poetry, essays and memoirs as well as short and long fiction while living in Manhattan, Germany, France, Italy, Washington, D.C. and Greece and, finally, Key West.
From 1975 until 1981 he was the heart and soul of a seminal German-American archival project to register, index and microfilm the records of the U.S. Military Government in Germany (OMGUS), 1944-1949. Coordinating the project with U.S. archivists, Brewster directed a diverse team of German archivists and researchers eager to make this material accessible to scholars. To this effort, he brought not just his deep historical knowledge but also his humor and organizational talent, and his concern for the well-being of his project protégés, several of whom became life-long friends.
His success with this project resonated throughout the historical community and led to his participation in President Jimmy Carter’s effort to found a museum documenting the Holocaust. In 1983, Brewster was hired by the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum as founding director of the Archives and Library, then as director of the International Programs Division. Until retiring in 2001, he worked closely with Yaacov Lozowick, director of archives at Yad Vashem in Israel. Their collaboration built a worldwide network dedicated to preserving and securing records and artifacts of the Holocaust.
In retirement, Brewster moved with his wife, Lynn-Marie Smith, to the Conch Republic (Key West) where his love of writing took full flight. He published several books of poems, travelogues on Paris and Greece, several novels, at least one thriller, and a chronology of the life and times of Ernest Hemingway. Brewster’s Hemingway exploration earned him widespread respect and recognition, especially among the locals. He was an active board member/research associate of the Key West Art & Historical Society. For many years he also served on the Durrell School of Corfu board of advisors and faculty.
When asked, Brewster considers the Berlin Quartet to be his greatest work. Three volumes have been published: “Schade’s Passage” (2017), “Schadow’s Meditations” (2017), and “Peregrine’s Island” (2018), set in Key West. The fourth volume, “Ursula’s Triumph” is unfinished. The complete list of his work can be found on his website, http://www.brewsterchamberlin.com.
Brewster’s first marriage to Angela Schüssler Chamberlin ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Lynn-Marie Smith, of Key West and their cat Nicolina. Honoring his wishes to return to France, where they spent a glorious year in Tavel in the 1980s, Lynn-Marie will scatter his ashes in the waters of the Sorgue River at the Fontaine de la Vaucluse. He has also requested that she enjoy a glass of wine and a lunch of local grilled fish in memory of the many such lunches over the decades of their marriage. She will also place a stone with his name and dates in the Tavel cemetery, 17 kilometers northwest of Avignon in the South of France.
Other survivors include his brother, Dean Chamberlin, and his sisters Ellen Chandler and Bonnie Goebel.