Joe GAFFNEY-BROWN Obituary (2022) – Spokane, WA

Joseph William Gaffney-Brown (1944-2022) passed away peacefully on Saturday, July 9, 2022 at Allen’s Place Extended Compassionate Care after a decades long battle with a rare neurological condition. Joe was born December 17,1944 to Maximillian Joseph and Lorena Anna (Beninger) Brown who raised him in Omaha, Nebraska with two younger sisters Cindy and Teresa. Joe served as head Altar Boy at the St. Cecilia Cathedral parish, where he excelled at smells, bells, and sports. At the age of 13, Joe eagerly entered the Diocesan seminary at Mount Michael Benedictine Abbey & School, and at age 20 Joe left in a blaze of glory after being expelled for sneaking out to dance with girls. At the ripe old age of 21, he married his ex-wife, Kathy (Fullerton) Brown, and fathered the first of four daughters, Ann Marie. Sara Katherine, his second daughter, was born five years later. One particular highlight of Joe’s young life was serving as personal chauffeur for Senator Robert F. Kennedy’s 1968 presidential campaign, driving the Senator and Ethel across the midwest. Joe received his Bachelor’s in English at the University of Iowa, and the Brown family later drove from Iowa in an old mail truck to Bellingham, WA. Joe and Kathy divorced shortly after their move, and Joe became involved in community organizing which would become his life’s work.

Joe met his wife, Mary Ellen Gaffney, to whom he was married for 43 years, at a PICO (Pacific Institute for Community Organizing) conference in Oakland, CA. After a passionate courtship, Joe and Mary Ellen married June 16,1979 at the Mission San Juan Capistrano, CA, changed their last names to Gaffney-Brown and settled in Spokane, WA to work as Co-Directors of the Peace & Justice Action League of Spokane. Joe and Mary Ellen added to their family, and daughters Rebecca Anne and Clare Teresa were born. Joe is fondly remembered for his work in multiple Catholic parishes across the Spokane diocese, specifically his integral role in declaring sanctuary for El Salvadoran refugees at St. Ann’s, the Franciscan parish the family belonged to for 35 years. Joe also worked as the Executive Director for L’Arche Spokane and spent many years with SNAP (Spokane Neighborhood Action Program) as a Program Manager, where he became infamous for buying casual shirts at Albertsons grocery store.

Part of Joe’s personal journey was his recovery from addiction, and his commitment to Alcoholics Anonymous. He could always be found at the Saturday morning meeting, and early on made the pledge to never turn anyone away that asked Joe to be his sponsor. Upon his passing, Joe had earned his 34-year sobriety coin presented virtually by his dear “Metabolic Brothers” from the As Bill Sees It meeting. Although his language and cognitive skills were greatly diminished due to his condition, he always had his copy of The Big Book at his bedside. While life was not always kind, Joe strove to find joy in the little things: he loved to dance, he loved to spend time with his Golden Retriever, Sunny, he loved golf, he loved to read, he loved movies on the Big Screen , he loved Francis of Assisi, Ram Das, and Thich Nhat Hahn, he was an amazing gift giver and Joe did his best to extend kindness and urged us all to “keep the dream alive!”

Joe is survived by the women in his life that he so dearly loved: his wife Mary Ellen, his sister Cindy, his four daughters Anna, Sara, Rebecca (husband, James), Clare, his extraordinary granddaughters Madeleine and Charlotte, and his ex – wife, Kathy. We especially thank Joe’s amazing Providence Medical team: Drs. Bob Wigert, Viv Moise, Tim Powell, and the therapists at St Luke’s Rehab Institute who taught us how to care for Joe after his three strokes. We are grateful for the compassionate, loving care provided by Allan Waigera, George Gichuki and Malaika Fadhili at Allan’s Place. All are invited to A Celebration of Life and Reception Tuesday, July 26, 2022, 6:30pm at Haystack House Upper Garden, 809 E 8th Ave, Spokane, WA 99202. Casual dress and bring your own lawn chair as we will be outside. Feel free to wear a mask if you so desire. Come and share your “Joe stories.”

Published by Spokesman Review on Jul. 17, 2022.

34465541-95D0-45B0-BEEB-B9E0361A315ATo plant trees in memory, please visit the Sympathy Store.