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Holderness Mourns the loss of Jim Brewer

James Edward Brewer II passed away peacefully on Saturday night, March 28, 2020 while at home with his friends and incredible caregivers, Deb and Bruce Cheney of Laconia, NH.
Born on November 16, 1931 in Port Chester, New York to Orlando Swift Brewer and Margaret Doran Brewer, he had passed his 88th birthday and had remained in amazingly good health throughout his long life.

James was a graduate of Deerfield Academy ’50, Hobart College ‘54, The University of Wisconsin Law School ’58 and The Bread Loaf School of English ’66.  He met Joan Bissonnette while recovering from Polio; she was his physical therapist. They married in 1957. They had three children, twin sons Scott and Duncan, born in 1959, and a daughter Katherine, born in 1961.

Jim had an illustrious career as a private school educator fulfilling many and varied roles including those of teacher, coach, dorm parent, advisor, assistant headmaster, headmaster, director of college counseling, Holderness School Today founder and publicist, chair of the English department, and overall mentor.  He began his teaching career at Holderness School in Holderness, New Hampshire in 1960 and taught there for nine years before moving on to become the Headmaster at The Barlow School in Amenia, New York in 1969.  In 1973 he took a position at Phillips Exeter Academy, Exeter, New Hampshire, where he taught English and coached Men’s JV Football and ran the Men’s Varsity Lacrosse program. In 1978, he chose to return to his beloved Holderness School, where he remained until his retirement in 1995. He became one of those icons who inspired the van Otterloo-Henderson-Brewer Chair Program for the professional development of faculty.

His bout with Polio left him needing to use braces and crutches for the remainder of his life, but anyone who saw him in action knew that those challenges didn’t slow him down one bit. He excelled in his professional life and also: camped across the country on his honeymoon; drove a car; used a chainsaw; coached both football and lacrosse (with an astounding 175-56-3 overall record, twelve league championships and was twice voted Northern New England Coach of the Year); paced the sidelines on game days; went fishing in a canoe; went down and up the steep hill at his summer house in the Adirondacks so he could go for his morning swim; and had a determined attitude to not live his life as if his physical challenges were either a handicap or a disability. He was an amazing role model of how to persevere and stay positive in the face of adversity.

He was also an avid nature lover and was always delighted by the antics of the creatures that surrounded him, be they the large bear who tore down the birdfeeder on numerous occasions or the scrawny little hummingbird whom he hoped would return each spring or the turkeys who flocked in the fields at the farm where he spent his last days. He shared his experiences by being a grand storyteller and entertained audiences at school assemblies, alumni gatherings, The Corner House Inn, The Pasquaney Inn,and at Taylor Home with his “Nature Notebook” stories and anecdotes.

He is survived by his son Scott Brewer of Spokane Washington, his daughter Kate Brewer of Sandwich NewHampshire, his eight grandchildren Kyle, Tallee, Megan, Tyler, Austin, Mackenzie, Guthrie and Dugan and his seven great grandchildren.  He was predeceased by his son, Duncan Brewer of Bend, Oregon; his ex-wife and lifelong friend, Joan Brewer of Plymouth, New Hampshire and his long-term partner, Candy Thun of Rumney, New Hampshire.

In these chaotic and challenging times, we will be unable to hold any services in the foreseeable future, though there will be one at a future date.  In the meantime, please visit to share in remembrances, stories, anecdotes or pictures. Funny or audacious memories are appreciated as we all know the man had a sense of humor. 

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Holderness School
33 Chapel Lane, Holderness, NH 03245
mail P.O Box 1879 Plymouth, NH 03264-1879
phone (603) 536-1257