Mary Louise Brewster, the wife of a long-serving and legendary Yale president and a woman often noted for her elegance, died late Wednesday night from an apparent stroke in rural Berkshire, England. She was 84 years old.
The well-read and hospitable Brewster is remembered for her impeccable manners, patrician spirit and devotion to the University, which her husband, Kingman Brewster, served as president from 1963 to 1977. Mary Louise Brewster was a “tremendous partner” for her husband and a beloved figure on campus, serving Yale with “carriage and style.”
Former University Secretary Sam Chauncey, who served alongside President Brewster, said Mary Louise Brewster was “wonderfully outgoing,” known for the warmth of her hospitality.
“She devoted herself to entertaining, to helping people,” Chauncey said. “She and Mr. Brewster had a really unusually close relationship. I never knew any two people who kind of worked together as a team the way they did.”
History professor emeritus John Blum said Mary Louise Brewster was an “ardent Yale rooter,” particularly at football and hockey games — the coaches always knew where she was sitting. In 1974, she initiated the annual Halloween party at the President’s House on Hillhouse Avenue, where students still are treated to live music and refreshments.
“Literally hundreds of Yale students would drop by, often in Halloween garb, to see the Brewsters and have some cider and wine before going on their way,” Blum said.
Blum and his wife first met the Brewsters when the two couples lived on the same block in Cambridge, Mass., while both men were studying at Harvard University. The Blums and the Brewsters were close friends at Yale and frequently baby-sat for each other.
“When my wife was out of town, [Mary Louise Brewster] used to like to get me to take her to Mory’s so she could buy the Whiffenpoofs a green cup,” Blum said.
A “vivacious redhead” who enjoyed reading and sunning at beaches, Mary Louise Brewster was known to stroll through campus every Sunday afternoon with her husband and their two dogs, visiting students’ rooms and college masters’ houses.
“When I was a student, every student at Yale looked up to the Brewsters with admiration,” Yale College Dean Richard Brodhead said. “They had a patrician air from the old Yale, but all the intellectual and social openness that one could ever have wished for.”
Mary Louise Brewster was a sturdy and unflappable woman who complemented her husband well, History professor emeritus Gaddis Smith said.
“Even her physical outline — she was a broad-shouldered, no-nonsense person, sturdy and also with a wonderful sense of humor,” Smith said. “I have the sense that she may have told Kingman, ‘Hey, Kingman, back off,’ on something when Kingman got a little bit too excited about something. She was sort of a stabilizing influence.”
Mary Louise Brewster traditionally returned to the Yale campus each spring for Commencement and alumni reunions and maintained an apartment in New Haven.
“She was not young at the end of her life, but she was endlessly interested in the life of the young,” Brodhead said.
In 1977, President Carter appointed Kingman Brewster to serve as U.S. Ambassador to the United Kingdom. The Brewsters bought the Ladywell Cottage in southern England, where Mary Louise Brewster stayed after her husband died in 1988.
Mary Louise Brewster is survived by her five children, Constance, Kingman III, Deborah, Alden and Riley. A small memorial service will be held in England this weekend and another service will be held this spring in New Haven.