SPRING HILL — Caring, patient, compassionate, dedicated and bright-hearted. Those were some of the words friends used Friday as they remembered Dr. Beatrice "Bea" Braun.
For more than two decades, Dr. Braun lent a generous, helping hand to senior citizens and those struggling with mental and emotional disorders in Hernando County.
By all accounts, Dr. Braun, who died Thursday at age 91 after a brief illness, was a shining example of the joy that came from giving back to the community through such organizations as AARP, the Nature Coast Community Health Center and the Hernando chapter of Serving Health Insurance Needs of Elders (SHINE).
Often accompanied by her late husband, Dr. Richard Braun, Dr. Braun worked tirelessly for others, especially those less fortunate than her, said longtime friend Nick Morana.
"If there was any one person who deserved the undying gratitude of the citizens of Hernando County, it was Bea Braun," Morana said. "The good deeds she and her husband did and the people they helped will long be remembered."
Born in Glen Mills, Pa., Dr. Braun discovered her calling early in life through the Roman Catholic Church. At Manhattanville College in New York, she became a Maryknoll Sister, a congregation of women dedicated to foreign mission outreach. She graduated in 1949 from Marquette University in Milwaukee with a doctorate in psychiatry.
Shortly after the Korean War broke out, Dr. Braun and five other Maryknoll Sisters were assigned at the request of Gen. Douglas MacArthur to conduct humanitarian services to beleaguered civilian refugees in Pusan, South Korea. So rewarding was the work that Dr. Braun chose to remain in the country for 17 years.
When she returned to the United States, she began a rotating internship at St. Vincent's Hospital in New York City. She also met and married Richard "Dick" Braun, a former Jesuit priest and clinical psychologist, who not only supported her community service, but often accompanied her as she carried out her work.
"They made a great team," Morana said. "They supported each other, and always seemed to have a lot of fun."
After three decades in the psychiatric field in New York, the Brauns retired from their professional lives to Spring Hill in 1989. But neither seemed interested in a relaxing, fun-in-the-sun existence.
Beatrice Braun was tapped to become the first director of the state's Department of Elder Affairs and assisted in developing what would become known as the SHINE program. In addition, she became a force with AARP, traveling to Washington, D.C., to lobby for the creation of volunteer Medicare/Medicaid assistance programs to help those who had trouble navigating the system's regulatory maze.
Dr. Braun served eight years on AARP's national board of directors in Washington and also was an adviser on several national committees. Her longtime service and dedication earned her the organization's prestigious Ethel Percy Andrus Award in 2009.
However, Dr. Braun's sense of advocacy for residents in her adopted home of Hernando never seemed to be limited, said her nephew, Jim Braun.
"She was a go-getter," Braun said. "She always saw a need to be filled, or a worthy cause to support. And she was ready to support those things any way she could."
Dr. Braun's passionate concern for those unable to afford professional psychiatric care prompted her to offer free counseling to the county's mental health clients. Former Hernando County Health Department administrator Elizabeth Callaghan called the gesture a "wonderful blessing."
"Bea came at a time when we didn't have a lot of resources in the way of mental health counseling," Callaghan recalled. "She was very likable, and our patients always looked forward to their visits with her. You could tell it was her calling."
Barbara Sweinberg, director of services at the nonprofit Crescent Community Clinic in Spring Hill, where Dr. Braun volunteered weekly as a counselor up until a few weeks ago, said her energy inspired the staff and patients alike.
"Her professionalism was second to none," Sweinberg said. "To me, she provided a beautiful example for everyone to follow."
Dr. Braun is survived by two sisters-in-law, Marilyn Braun of Buffalo, N.Y, and Barbara A. Simpler of Westchester, Pa., and several nieces and nephews. Visitation will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday at Pinecrest Funeral Chapel, 3369 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. A funeral Mass is scheduled for 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church, 5030 Mariner Blvd., Spring Hill. Memorial contributions may be made to the Enrichment Centers of Hernando County and the HPH Hospice Foundation.
Logan Neill can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1435.