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Barbara Elsbeth (LaBrusciano), advocate for all, teacher, grandmother

A falcon flew over Berlin Hill as Barbara Elsbeth was received by the ancestors, through rays of golden light and the bluest sky she had ever seen. Radiant, having sent her pain like a terracotta effigy into the arms of the willow that had revealed visions before, water to clean air to purify.

Barbara was born on August 30, 1939, on the eve of a seismic world shift, to Edward Francis and Anne Blake Smith of Parkchester in the Bronx, New York. Premature at birth, she was an “incubator baby” at the New York World’s Fair exhibited in the “World of Tomorrow” pavilion, testimony to her tenacious nature.

She attended St. Helena High School, where Monsignor Scanlon’s humble demeanor and frayed clothes left a lasting impression, as did her time volunteering on the St. John’s Guild floating hospital ship for the city’s poor and underserved. A graduate in occupational therapy from Mount Mary College in Milwaukee, she became director of occupational therapy at Rhode Island State Hospital and later worked in palliative care and elder care.

Barbara was active in the Catholic labor movement, civil rights, feminism, and opposition to the Vietnam War, and greatly admired Reverend Daniel Berrigan, Dr. Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Pete Seeger. As a young mother in Woodbury, CT, Barbara packed her children in the car with handmade signs and visited Danbury Federal Prison to demand the release of the Berrigan brothers and she regularly brought the family to vigils to protest against the Vietnam War and the incarceration of Black Panther Party leaders.

She moved to Waitsfield, VT in 1975 and raised her four children, Christopher, Anne, Paul and Peter, in an environment filled with creativity that carried into their adult lives: art, literature, song, sewing and puppet making, gardening – and all the kids grinding grain for bread, pizza and bagels and shaping their own little raisin pies.

She became involved in education when her children reached school age. She has taught in Montessori schools, facilitated workshops, and worked to steer public school systems in a more progressive direction. She received her Masters in Art Education from UVM and taught at Harwood Union High School. She is remembered as warm and tolerant, treating every student with dignity. She made learning art an intellectual, tactile and expressive quest. Later, she served on the faculty of Burlington College, facilitated workshops at various colleges, and worked with elders to tell their stories through different mediums.

Her own works are a deeply personal exploration of light and pain, a reverence for the beauty of the world and its relationship to the divine. she avoided exhibiting or commodifying her work, believing it to be almost profane.

She immersed herself in exploring Ifa faith and divination, Nigeria’s Yoruba culture, through art, spiritual life and scholarship, deepening her connection with nature, magic and veneration of the dead. His doctoral work and his teaching in this field were interrupted by tragic personal events.

Barbara was a seeker of natural environments and culture, embarking on epic day trips in her old Saab to Lake Elmore, Boulder Beach and Kettle Pond to draw and paint kids on the beach, as well as the libraries and art exhibits at Middlebury College and UVM. She was known in all the thrift stores in the area and filled her house with “treasures”. His collection of world-class used VCR tapes was a legend.

She had the unique ability to connect with people, instantly deeply, seemingly randomly, creating lasting friendships. Seeking community wherever she went, she is remembered, cherished and missed by all those she touched.

Her body was anointed, wrapped and shouldered on her last earthly winding journey accompanied by spiritual chanting, and laid in the ground behind her daughter’s house, surrounded by living friends and family.

Barbara is survived by her children Christopher, Anne and Peter (Hillary Gardner), her grandchildren, Ruby, Ella, Theo, Lorenzo, Nico and Nevin, and her brother, John Edward Smith. She was predeceased by her beloved son Paul.
Instead of flowers, consider throwing your TV out the back door.

Family Information

Barbara is survived by her children Christopher, Anne and Peter (Hillary Gardner), her grandchildren, Ruby, Ella, Theo, Lorenzo, Nico and Nevin, and her brother, John Edward Smith. She was predeceased by her beloved son Paul.

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