Lives We Have Lost: Branyan remembered as true ‘lady’

Published 9:59 pm Thursday, December 10, 2020

Editor’s note: This story is the first in a series highlighting the lives of those members in our Miss-Lou community who fell victim to COVID-19 and lost their life, or whose death was hastened because of the virus.

If your loved one passed away after suffering from the COVID-19 virus, we would like to write about their life and your loss. Please contact Scott Hawkins at 601-445-3540 or email him at Scott.Hawkins@natchezdemocrat.com.

NATCHEZ — Lower Lodge Antiques co-founder Martha Branyan tested positive for COVID-19 the day after her 89th birthday and died just four days later on Nov. 22, family members said.

As of Thursday, 52 residents of Adams County reportedly have died of COVID-19, according to the Mississippi State Department of Health and 31 residents of Concordia Parish, according to the Louisiana Health Department, with possibly more unreported COVID-19 related deaths.

Branyan, like every person who has died with COVID-19, was more than just a spot of data on the health department’s website.

Barbara Red, who manages Lower Lodge Antiques, said Branyan was a true “lady” and a ray of light to the Natchez community.

“She was, in every way, a lady,” Red said. “She put on her makeup, her lipstick, put up her hair and put on her jewelry, stockings and shoes every single day whether she was going to leave the apartment or not.”

Also like a lady, Red said Branyan always smiled and rarely complained.

When Branyan’s late husband of 46 years, Lawrence Ode Branyan Jr., retired in 1986, they moved to Natchez where she co-founded Lower Lodge Antiques with her son, Richard Branyan. 

Red said those who remember Martha probably remember her pets also; particularly her famous English bulldog Horace, who was often seen sitting on benches on Franklin and Main streets. Her faithful cat, Juliet, survived Martha and misses her also, Red said. 

Red said she worked for Martha at Lower Lodge Antiques six days a week for 20 months and even though they were not blood-related, Red said Martha made her feel like a member of the family.

Toward the end of her life, Red said Martha would reach for Red’s hand as if to console her when Martha could not communicate with words.

“She made you feel special,” Red said. “I’ll always remember her reaching for my hand. To me, that was saying we were bonded and as long as we have each other, we’re OK.”

Richard said Martha had dementia long before she tested positive for COVID-19 and could not communicate how she felt.

Richard said he was the first to find out he had the virus when he tested positive on his mother’s birthday, Nov. 17.

Richard said at the time, he, his mother and his two sisters — Margaret and Betsy — were all together. Each of them became sick at different times, Richard said.

“(COVID) was nothing like they say it is,” Richard said. “I didn’t know that I was sick with COVID. … All I had was a cough and I was super sensitive to pepper.”

Loss of taste and smell is a symptom often reported among COVID patients. However, Richard said he and his siblings experienced it differently.

Betsy said she tested negative around the same time her mother tested positive but started to develop symptoms two weeks later.

Betsy said she is currently under quarantine with a lingering cough.

“With me, everything just tastes blah,” Betsy, said. “It just doesn’t taste nice. Sometimes it can be so subtle. Some people might not be sure it’s a symptom and think they’re OK. … It is a strange virus and doesn’t behave the way you would expect it to.”

Richard said because his symptoms were so mild and because his two sisters’ symptoms developed so much later, he is concerned that more people, himself included, could have been super spreaders without realizing it.

In his mother’s case, Richard said Martha died peacefully and would not have wanted to live longer with dementia.

“We don’t know what the final cause (of death) was but COVID didn’t help,” Richard said. “Yes, it is a serious virus. In my mother’s case, it was a blessing. … It is completely random. Some people 35 years old and younger die, and I’ve also heard of people who are 95 who live. … My symptoms were so mild that I could have been a super spreader.”

Betsy said up until Martha’s last days, she was full of life. She loved to travel and rode rollercoasters at Universal Studios just five years ago, Betsy said.

“She was sweet, kind and intelligent but not in an ordinary way,” Betsy said of her mother. “She was sharp and was insightful.”

Martha liked to collect many delicate things, especially porcelain, and was also both frugal and generous, Betsy said.

“She wouldn’t think anything of spending on others but was tight for herself,” Betsy said. “She wore her shoes until she had holes in them. We will all miss her.”