John W. Brennan, after 58 years living, studying, working and raising a large family in Mexico, died in a Guadalajara hospital July 21 at the age of 85 from complications due to an infection ten days after having heart surgery.
â€śBig Johnâ€ť Brennan, born in Akron, Ohio in 1928, was very well known in the foreign community here. He came to Mexico at the age of 28 after serving in the U.S. Army in post-World-War-II Japan and earning a degree in economics from Miami University in Ohio. He was originally sent here as an employee of General Tire and Rubber Company but soon blazed a trail that few have followed, becoming one of a handful of foreigners to graduate from law school in Mexico, a feat accomplished at the age of 48 after beginning his study of Spanish from scratch 20 years earlier.
He practiced law, with partner Jose Francisco Vidaurri, from an office in the Chapalita area of Guadalajara where many foreigners lived in past years, until a few years before his death, although he â€śnever really retired,â€ť said his son and law partner John, Jr.
His son James noted that his father was â€śsharp as a tackâ€ť until the end, even if he had started to use a wheelchair recently. Brennan helped mostly foreign clients with immigration, probate, real estate, corporate, family and other matters.
â€śMost of his clients became his friends,â€ť said his daughter and general office manager Kathleen Brennan, although at first he came across as tough. â€śHe was very Type A,â€ť she said. In a short autobiography, Brennan wrote that his parents encouraged him to â€śbe an achiever.â€ť
However, â€śheâ€™d give you the shirt off his back if you needed help,â€ť James recalled, while also reminiscing about his fatherâ€™s take-charge manner. â€śHeâ€™d walk into a room and announce â€?Never fear, Brennanâ€™s here!â€™â€ť
He found his calling in law when his Mexican wife Lorena Bourdon remarked how many friends came to him for legal advice. In addition, his father, a doctor, had long advised him that it was more secure to be a professional than an employee: â€śYou can always hang up a shingle and go into business on your own.â€ť
So at the age of 41, with four children and triplets soon to come, Brennan undertook the arduous process of enrolling in the University of Guadalajara law school, a path that eventually led him, in order to be able to practice law here with no impediments, to become a Mexican citizen. (For this, he had to give up his U.S. citizenship as required by Mexican law, although he got it back in 1999 with the help of a U.S. vice consul after the law changed.)
His wife, a biochemist who had drawn him to Guadalajara, supported the family with income from her lab during his five years of law school. Brennan called her â€śthe love of his lifeâ€ť and said his greatest disappointment was that she divorced him after he graduated from law school. She died in 1992.
Brennan was noted for his devotion to his children. â€śHe was the greatest father,â€ť said his daughter Michele.
He was also a pillar of many organizations, such as the American and the local chambers of commerce, American Legion Post Three and the American Society of Jalisco (AMSOC), going back to the era when AMSOC had up to 2,000 members. In recent years, he convened a weekly Saturday morning breakfast, where he would â€śhold court.â€ť
â€śPeople liked him. He had a following,â€ť said Dean Burk, a friend since 1971, who noted that he was introduced to Brennan by Mexican Notary Public, Attorney Victor Gonzalez Luna, one of Elizabeth Taylorâ€™s boyfriends. â€śLike a good Irishman, John loved to debate, but even people who argued with him enjoyed it.â€ť
Brennan was known in the Mexican community as well, through law school friends, law colleagues, judges and litigants, said his son John, Jr. In addition, Brennan was known for setting up the Dairy Queen chain in Guadalajara and Puerto Vallarta in the early 1970s.
Brennan and his family visited the Lake Chapala area frequently, attending events such as the Chili Cookoff and staying at La Nueva Posada on many weekends. John, Jr., opened a law office in Ajijic, which increased his fatherâ€™s ties at Lakeside.
Brennan is survived by his seven children: James, of Pasadena, California; Kathleen, Michele, John Jr., Liza, Jennifer and Cynthia, all living in the Guadalajara area; and by eight grandchildren: Amber (age 18), Lorena (16), Daniel Gonzalez (14), Kevin Gonzalez (12), David (10), Joseph and Elisa (4) and Hunter (1).
A funeral was held July 22 in Guadalajara with a private Mass in the chapel of Parque Funeral Colonias. He was bid farewell by family and friends as a mariachi band played some of his favorite songs before he was to be cremated.
Diane Hubbard Johnson-Behrens
Part-time lakeside resident Diane Johnson-Behrens of Alvarado, Texas died in Ajijic on July 10 at the age of 76.
Johnson-Behrens attended the University of Texas and retired from a long career in General Electricâ€™s Computer Division. She was active in the Alvarado Lions Club and Alvarado High School Ex-students Association. Johnson-Behrens loved to travel and over the past 15 years spent a good portion of each year in Ajijic, as well as making other trips around the world. Johnson-Behrens enjoyed sharing her joy in life with friends, old and new, taking an active part in the lives of her nieces and nephews, and giving generously to charities and civic organizations.
She is survived by her husband Mike Behrens, her stepson David Behrens, his wife Beverly, and their son Will. She is also survived by her sister, Nell Clark, two sisters-in-law from her first marriage, Lanelle Carroll and Doris Barfield of Ajijic, as well as four nephews and two nieces. She was preceded in death by her first husband, Charles Johnson.
Her ashes were buried in a small cemetery on her Texas cattle ranch.