Sean Reiss Brennan
Christmas Eve '82 ~ New Year's '20
It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we share with you the shocking loss of our beloved Sean Brennan. He was the best. Pure heart. Wild spirit. Brilliant scientist. A warm, gentle rock of a husband. An engaging dad to his three children-Behr (5), Ruby (3), Evy (4 months). A rudder of kindness, depth and humor with his four brothers: Garett, Tim, Kyle, and Charlie. And a steady light of joy and inspiration for his parents Gerard and Brenda.
Sean was born on Christmas eve in 1982. His frequent growling as a baby earned him the nickname "Bear," which stuck with him his whole life and embodied the strength and endurance of his spirit. In his early years he was loud, fierce, wild, full of adventure. Determined by his own rhythm to understand the world around him, confident and strong around people taller than him on the playground or on the soccer field. He was so damn hard-working, steady and consistent. Loyal to his brothers and friends he loved. As he grew older, he harnessed this energy into a grounded, warm force that drew people to him.
He forged his own academic path by asking deep questions about our ecosystems, communities, economic pressures and the natural resources that sustain life. As an undergraduate at the University of Utah, a trip to Antelope Island to study Buffalo herds sparked a life-long academic journey to understand the biological programming and intelligence of migratory species. This path led him to back to Alaska for a PhD in Fisheries Oceanography. It was there in Fairbanks while working on his dissertation and playing countless nights of old-time tunes where he met his beloved Britt at a farm potluck that happened to be hosting a "no-talent show," and he played the only song he knew on an accordion: Cigarettes and Whiskey and Wild Wild Women. Sean and Britt married in the La Sal mountains overlooking the red rocks of Moab in 2013, where their loved ones from all over the world gathered to celebrate the most beautiful, rarified love of loves. The kind of love that people dream about. The kind that poets, artists, and musicians have written about and that Sean and Britt shared effortlessly and endlessly with all of those around them and especially their children.
His dissertation in Fairbanks led him to a postdoc at the University of Washington with his mentor Daniel Schindler, PhD, who described Sean as a "bold and creative scientist, driven to make a difference for all the best reasons...as humble a person as there ever was."
His research focused on quantifying, understanding and integrating the systems and tools to conserve and manage our natural resources more effectively; especially in the face of ongoing, rapid environmental change. He was an effective teacher and collaborator and in 2019, he published a culmination of this work in an issue of Science Magazine.
When you were in Sean's presence, and looked into his eyes, you felt fully seen. He held calm and curious space for everyone. More importantly, you felt held in the most authentic kindness of the human spirit.
Sean passed away on January 2nd in a skiing accident at Alta, UT. We will forever long for him and his unique strength and softness, warmth and willingness, humor and humility. He was just magical and we all knew it, felt it, burned with it in our hearts.
Britt and the Brennans will be hosting a Memorial service to honor and celebrate Sean, Saturday, January 11th at 12pm at the Salt Lake City Cemetery (please park on N Street between 4th and 7th Avenue).
In honor of Sean's love of learning and significant contributions to science, in lieu of flowers, his family has set up a scholarship fund to support Behr, Ruby and Evy in finding their own educational journeys. Please visit www.seanrbrennan.com
to contribute to this fund and to learn more about Sean's research and work in the world. If you feel inspired to contribute, please include a memory or note in your gift. Thank you so much for supporting us.
Published by The Salt Lake Tribune on Jan. 10, 2020.