Remembering Brent Wilkes

LHS Classmates,

As we shared with much sadness several weeks ago, Brent Wilkes—our friend, classmate, and 50th Reunion Committee Chair—died on September 10 after a long and courageous road with cancer.  Brent was our Reunion’s "pioneer“ —the person among us with the initial excitement and passion necessary to make a 50th Reunion happen—and a person for whom friendship and connection were deeply important. 

More than a year ago, Brent put the Reunion wheels in motion by reaching out to Pete Grady ’69, chair of his class’s successful 50th Reunion, for his expertise, then recruiting a group of classmates to join him on the Steering Committee. In the following months, he led the Committee in the considerable effort to find classmates, through untold hours spent searching the internet, writing letters, and making phone calls. Many of us are now part of this wonderful web of reconnections because of Brent’s dedication to renewing friendships among us and to the anticipation of a terrific Reunion weekend. 

Even in the midst of his difficult health issues, Brent was a wonderful “host” in laughter-filled and productive Zoom Reunion meetings throughout this past summer. His dedication to our class and to next year’s Reunion—and his delight in long-time and renewed friendships—remained steadfast throughout. We are deeply grateful for his friendship and for all that he has done to bring us together. 

Some reflections about Brent shared by the Steering Committee:   

I loved that Brent insisted on picking me up in his very fancy convertible for our Reunion meetings, but I never realized how important that time was until now.  We had so many good chats about the Reunion, the people in our lives, and how great a chapter in life we were in.  His optimism about the state of his health was extraordinary and I was so inspired by his faith.  

Brent created our Reunion Steering Committee and often commented on how much he appreciated all of us.  We will carry on in Brent's honor and have a Reunion that Brent would have been so proud of.

-Andy Bosco Bingham

I was late joining the Steering Committee so I missed out on the fun times they all had with Brent, but I can say with certainty that he was a driving force to to get the Reunion on track to be lots of fun. During our last meeting we were sharing memories of him and talking about how great our loss will be without him. The Brent we all knew, loved and respected back in high school was the same man after all these years. His spirit will certainly continue to be with all of us. His was a life well lived. 

My sympathies go out to his family and all the close friends that will miss him so much. 

-Sue Perkins Mara

My first real memories of Brent begin in High School running track.  Brent was a skilled sprinter and I, well, tried my best not to embarrass myself too much.  He was always helpful and supportive in everything I tried to do and I, in turn, tried to do the same.  

Brent was a leader.  He didn’t try to be a leader.  Kids followed him because of the way he handled himself.  We all liked Brent because of his intellect, his wit and his kindness!  Brent was what we all called “A Good Kid!”

I carried this “picture” of Brent beyond high school.  Our friendship lasted past LHS.  Brent was the kind of person who you could count on to do the “right thing.”  I had the privilege of participating in Brent’s wedding and he was an usher in mine.   He was always there when you needed him!

Well, as time usually does, we didn’t see each other for several years when he lived in New York.  When he returned to the area and sent out the call for help to organize the LHS Class of 1970, 50th Reunion I was thrilled!  I’m not too sure what I was most thrilled about.  I love being on the Steering Committee and seeing those wonderful people, and I was excited to see Brent again!  Those meetings were the highlight of every month. Sadly we lost Brent on September 10th.  We will carry on as he would want us to but he is irreplaceable!

Brent, I will miss your intellect, your wit, your humor and most of all, your friendship. Thanks for including me!

-Bob Sparkes

During the summer of either our sophomore or junior year, Brent and I were employed by our parents to paint our respective houses.  They were trying to keep us busy, provide a little income and receive a low cost paint job—all of which they accomplished.

We lacked the experience and tools to embark on this project.  Making matters worse, Brent's house was a historical Lynnfield home with probably 20 coats of old paint and my house was a two story.  Qualified—no, but, we approached it with teenage male enthusiasm, thinking “how hard could this be”?  That enthusiasm quickly evaporated when we realized how difficult and time consuming this was, however, we did gain two valuable insights;  1) the work was not mean’t for us or we were not meant for it, and 2) numerous and lengthy breaks were always good for discussing sports and girls, not to mention an occasional whiffle ball game.

After numerous spills, mistakes, destroyed shrubbery, misuse of supplies, hornets nests and at least eight weeks, we finished.  We probably made pennies per hour with results commensurate with that compensation.  I am positive our parents, in particular our mothers, were witness to or overheard inappropriate words and discussions, yet, never let on.  Later as a parent, I deployed the same strategy;  try not to listen, if you don’t want to hear!  Over 50+ years later, I can still recall and visualize this time with Brent.  

During our conversations over the last year, it seemed we were never too far removed from that summer of painting.  I will miss him!

-Mark Sisson

I did not know Brent very well during our years at LHS.  However, I was fortunate...50 years later…to get to know him better this past year while working on the Steering Committee for our 50th H.S Reunion.  In July 2019, Brent had reached out to Pete (Grady) to learn how he had recruited volunteers for the Class of 1969 Steering Committee and how he had created a class website to plan and communicate the event to their classmates.  I asked Pete to let Brent know that I was very interested in helping with our class's 50th Reunion  planning too. Soon afterward, I was so pleased to receive Brent's thoughtful email welcoming me aboard the newly formed Steering Committee.  Brent told me that the first meeting would be held in September and that I could attend by phone since I didn't live in Massachusetts.

While working as an innkeeper at a historical Inn in Bar Harbor, Maine, a favorite quote of mine by Maya Angelou is hung in the main office.  "At the end of the day people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel."  I think of Brent when I read that quote!  Brent's initial email to me inviting me to join the committee said, "Great to hear from you...have added you to the database...will also add you to the Steering Committee.  I have almost 50 names now...hope to have a full Steering Committee within a few weeks.  I think that the planning will be fun!  And, it'll be great to connect with people that I like and admire."

Brent had a way of making "everyone" feel respected and valued. It has been an honor and a privilege to be in this group of old/new friends, who shared Brent's passion and vision to plan a special event in celebration of our graduation from LHS 50 years ago. Being on the Steering Committee for the Class of 1970 50+1 Reunion and rekindling old friendships with classmates has enriched my life this past year.  I will miss Brent as we continue what he began a year ago and most certainly will miss him very much at our 50th High School Class Reunion in  September 2021. 

 -Janet Silva Grady

For me what stands out is his great sense of humor and easy warmth.  It was that wonderful feeling that after so many decades of each of us going our separate ways to grow our lives when we got together to talk about this Reunion last year it felt like we were just coming out of a class 50 years ago at LHS or like coming together after summer vacation, not like 50 years had gone by! Brent"s humble ability to laugh at himself and at the same time use his gentle brilliant energy to get our group going made it a pure joy to reconnect after 50 years.

He clearly embraced a joy of living. At the mention of pickleball his eyes lit up with the idea of having some fun together on the courts. He had a leadership style that was sincere, with acute listening skills and a wonderful ability to gather our thoughts as individuals and to formulate a cohesive and agreeable direction.

In short, Brent was a wonderful, smart, caring man who will be missed by so many. I am so grateful I got a chance to reconnect with him; he brought us together and I am so grateful. I think he will be there with us next year, laughing and joking and sending his love.

-Karen Better Carlin

I had not seen Brent since the 35th Reunion.  I was very happy to join the Steering Committee when Brent asked if I wanted to help out.  Our first meeting was in early September 2019.  As soon as Brent walked into my house and said hi, wow  what a flood of memories came rushing back.  He looked the same but it was his voice that was so distinctive. He had a great voice and a wonderful vision for the Reunion.  Many things have happened since that September night in 2019. I am just so grateful to get reunited with a few of our classmates.  We truly grew up in a magical time , in a wonderful town.  Brent will be sorely missed as we continue to plan our Class of 1970 Reunion.

-Joy Rossborough Doyle


How do I start? I didn’t really know you in high school. We knew who each other was from being in classes together. Having started LHS in February of ’68 because my parents had moved us 2.5 miles from Lynn, I did know some classmates from graduating OLA a few years before, but it was hard. We had met up at some parties but I guess we were acquaintances. We were talking at Don Cole’s funeral and you brought up the subject of the 50th Reunion. We talked about how it was two years away and how could that be and being the situation of where we were, and the impact of the day, having lost our friend. Little did I know you had already been formulating in your mind how we were going to go about this. He said “Kate, we can do this together!” Of course, me thinking—hmm, this is a pretty big undertaking and I had a lot on my plate already. Your enthusiasm convinced me we could do it. I was so happy you had asked me to join you.

At the first meeting I believe you brought up your health problems and how you were a survivor. I think we were all shocked. Your openness, your zeal for life, and how we were going to go about doing this reunion, because you had been there, surprised a lot of us. Without you this momentous event may not have been planned. I will forever be grateful for this opportunity to reconnect with you and everyone on this Steering Committee.  I will always remember your smile jokes and easy laugh. Miss you!

Rest easy, my friend.

-Kate Power Benedetto

After Brent did his great detective work to reach out to me about the Reunion (as he did with so many of us), he sent along a picture of Mrs. Carpenter’s first-grade class at the Center Street School in 1958—he and I in the front row, along with many other adorable six-year olds who would later graduate from LHS together in the spring of 1970. Brent and I puzzled about the identity of a few, laughed about our 50s-era bowties and white socks, and shared other childhood and high school memories.

When I later joined the Steering Committee, and experienced Brent’s leadership and presence, I saw more fully the kind, generous, hard-working and optimistic man he had become. And since his death—so much sooner than we anticipated or hoped for—I’ve gone back numerous times to the picture of us as first-graders, never imagining all that life held in store. Renewing the connection to Brent that extended far back to our first-grade class  has been a great joy and blessing.

-Kitsie Eckert Claxton

Surprisingly, some of my strongest memories and feelings about Brent came post-graduation. Our lives have crossed through events and other connections when we both lived in Reading (I still do). We crossed paths at the library as well as at my wife's coffee shop, The Hot Spot. What struck me most about Brent in these later years is the way he seemed to be able to keep in contact with everyone, even those who he may not have been all that close to during high school. It was directly through Brent that I became involved with the Reunion. It is hoped that despite his passing those rekindled connections with my past will live on. I have Brent to thank for that.

-Alan Foulds

Special thanks to Kitsie Eckert Claxton for writing this letter's introduction and coordinating the collection of thoughts and memories.

For those interested, a link to Brent's Boston Globe obituary is provided below>

Thank you Brent, you will be missed.

The LHS 50+1 Reunion Steering Committee