Family, friends say final farewell to Bill Brand, late Redondo Beach mayor, environmental activist – Daily Breeze

Diedre Brand drops a basket of flowers containing the ashes of her late husband and former Redondo Beach mayor Bill Brand, into the ocean during a paddleout ceremony on Saturday May 11, 2024. (Photo by Chuck Bennett, Contributing Photographer)

For Dierdre Brand, the paddleout to honor her late husband was the epilogue.

Bill Brand — mayor, environmental activist, loving husband and friend to scores of locals —  was finally laid to rest in a touching ceremony just south of the Redondo Beach Pier on Saturday, May 11.

Brand, who died in February after battling Stage 4 lung cancer, taught her to surf, said Dierdre. So paddling out on a board along with dozens of others was cathartic.

“It’s been my most emotional day,” Dierdre said through tears afterward at Veteran’s Park. The family held a private funeral in February, the public honored the former mayor in March, and now this — the beloved two-term mayor’s final, floating farewell.

“Somehow, it’s harder, and it all comes out,” she added. “That I have to release him.”

Just a half-hour earlier, at mid-day, in the middle of a circle of about 35 surfboards, Dierdre delivered her husband’s ashes to the depths of the ocean he loved and fought to protect.

She received them from Brand’s sisters, Sallie Citron and Liz Brand, who transferred a large, flower-filled basket from the stern of a boat carrying family and friends, as it anchored in choppy waters.

Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, seen here during Relay for Life in 2022, died on Friday, Feb. 9. He was 66. Brand was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2019. (File photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)
Redondo Beach Mayor Bill Brand, seen here during Relay for Life in 2022, died on Friday, Feb. 9. He was 66. Brand was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer in 2019. (File photo by Keith Birmingham, Pasadena Star-News/ SCNG)

Dierdre balanced, seated on her board, with Bill’s childhood friend Kevin Barrett by her side. Councilmember and LA County Lifeguard Nils Nehrenheim held the “missing man” surfboard — one Bill Brand himself used — steady.

The widow read the short poem “Surfer’s Elegy,” while the circled paddlers, some with white roses between their teeth, held hands. Then, Dierdre lifted the basket that contained her husband’s remains and placed it in the center of the circle.

The basket and weighted ashes immediately sunk, leaving behind a splot of bright red, yellow and orange flowers floating atop the water.

Hearts swelled. Paddlers yelled:

“Bye, Bill!”

“Thank you!”

“Love you!”

And, as the firehoses from the Lifeguard boats sprayed the paddlers with water, sorrow turned to jubilation. They held their arms up in the air in triumph.

Bill Brand’s most notable achievement — the decommissioning of the AES electrical power plant — had taken place just five months earlier, on Dec. 31. For decades, Brand, alonside his friend and named mayoral successor Jim Light, fought overdevelopment in Redondo Beach’s King Harbor area.

The Dec. 31 decommissioning was one of the last public events the late mayor attended. Brand was there to pull a symbolic, giant red “off” switch.

On Saturday, that day was fondly remembered by family members and VIPs on one of about eight boats to participate in the paddleout.

Hermosa Beach City Councilmember Ray Jackson recounted AES shut-down day with Brand’s sister, Sallie Cintron.

“Thanks for sharing your brother with all of us,” Jackson said to Cintron. “The South Bay is a better place because of him.”

It was that larger-than-life persona that Cintron had a hard time reconciling. Because, after all, she said, Bill was just her little brother.

But all the events — the public memorial in February, recently accepting a lifetime achievement award on her brother’s behalf at the state of the city address recently and a plan to retire a U.S. flag in his name at an upcoming Memorial Day ceremony — stirred things up for her.

“It made me realize how much people loved him,” Cintron said.

Bill’s little sister, Liz Brand, was also on hand Saturday, feeling “really tender and vunerable,” she said before the family boat traveled out the channel to the paddleout point.

Liz Brand said she wanted to go to every memorial for her brother and was happy to have something to look foward to, as a way to keep Bill near.

“I want more and more and more and more,” she said, adding she hopes she’s alive “when they create the Bill Brand Park.”

After the paddleout, as family and friends filed back into the King Harbor Yacht Club, Liz Brand shook her head.

“That was hard,” she said. “I guess it’s healthy, though.”

What, exactly was healthy?

“To bury Bill,” she said with a sigh.

Those sentiments were echoed later at Veteran’s Park by her sister-in-law, Dierdre, who was physically and emotionally drained, she said, from paddling out in the choppy waters and from tapping into her loss once again.

But, said Dierdre, she felt at peace. She described the grief she was feeling as one with “a real beauty to it.”

“I’ve lost people before,” Dierdre said. “But not like this.” She added that Bill didn’t want to live in a body riddled with disease.

Bill Brand spent five years battling cancer, moving from one clinical trial to another. And, he refused to be defined by the cancer throughout his final years.

“I’m just fighting cancer like a lot of people do,” Bill Brand said in an interview before his death.

The way her late husband rallied people, said Diedre was a gift. He got people “to feel,” and to realize they needed to come together to foster change in their community.

“In a weird way,” said Dierdre, “his dying has almost amplified his vision and has created a coalition behind it.”

Her husband’s death — as she said when she spoke during the public memorial in February and again on Saturday — was an excellent epilogue.

An epilogue that could impact people in ways a final chapter might not.

“It was almost a perfect ending,” she said.

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