'A life well lived'

Nanda Wilbourn Family Pavilion dedicated to former principal

By Steve Nash / Brownwood Bulletin steve.nash@brownwoodbulletin.com
Joey Wilbourn speaks at during the dedication of the Nanda Wilbourn Family Pavilion at Mayes Park Thursday afternoon.
Nanda Wilbourn

Amid tears, laughter and endearing tributes to “a life that was well lived,” family, friends and other community members gathered Thursday at Mayes Park to dedicate the Nanda Wilbourn Family Pavilion.

Wilbourn died in July 2019 at the age of 64. Just weeks earlier, she had retired as principal of East Elementary School, which is adjacent to Mayes Park.

Speakers including Nanda’s husband, Joey, described Nanda’s humor, the passion with which she lived, her love for her students and her ability to impact others.

Joey Wilbourn spoke lovingly and at times humorously about his wife, including the declaration that her life had been "well lived.”

Earlier this year, Brownwood Mayor Stephen Haynes recommended that the pavilion be named in honor of Nanda Wilbourn. The Parks and Recreation Advisory Board unanimously gave its approval, and city council members went on to ratify the decision.

Jonathan Dunlap, who works at ASAP Creative Arts, designed the colorful sign that bears Nanda Wilbourn’s name and is attached to the pavilion.  

Haynes, the first speaker at Thursday’s dedication, drew laughter when he referred to the Nanda Wilbourn Family Pavilion and said, “Joey asked me to clarify that it’s not only for the Nanda Wilbourn family but for everyone.”

Haynes said it was a day to recognize “a special lady in our community, someone who loved Brownwood, someone who loved children, someone who supported family. … and I know that Nanda is looking down on us and smiling when she sees this, because nothing would’ve warmed her heart more than to see families enjoying this place.” 

Haynes said his favorite memory of Wilbourn was seeing her outside the school before in the mornings, greeting children as they arrived.

“She loved on my kids as well as yours,” Haynes said.

Wilbourn’s mother, Faye Jarvis, spoke tenderly about her daughter.

“Our family is so pleased that the city of Brownwood chose to honor Nanda, and we are so pleased that this pavilion is located adjacent to East Elementary where she invested so many years of her life,” Jarvis said. “When she was with the children at East, she encouraged them to work hard, to make good choices, to be kind. And to Nanda, being kind just meant something very simple. It mean treating other people the way you want to be treated.

"A pavilion is sometimes called a shelter. It is our hope that in years to come, there will be many families and many children who will come to shelter here.”

Jarvis said she’d driven by earlier to see the pavilion with its new sign. Jarvis said she could imagine her daughter also driving by, seeing the sign and saying, “oh, my! For me?”

“When you pass by, I would encourage you to remember her, to remember who she was, and to remember what she meant to each of you," Jarvis said. The person that was Nanda is absent from our presence but the spirit of Nanda lives on in each of us.”

Allison Northcutt, principal of Northwest Elementary School, began an emotional tribute that gave way to lightheartedness as Northcutt recalled her close friend. Wilbourn would have been “thrilled” at having the pavilion named in her honor, Northcutt said.

“I can’t think of a more fitting (honor) for Nanda than to have this directly across from the school that she loved,” Northcutt said. She said she’d love to see Wilbourn’s expression if she could drive by and see the sign on the pavilion with her name.

“And I would so want to say that she would be humbled by this,” Northcutt said, followed by laughter from others seemed to know what Northcutt was about to say.

“Not the word!" Northcutt exclaimed. "Not the word. Humble’s not the word I would use, because she would (say) ‘yep, where’s my crown …’”

That witticism was a reflection of Nanda Wibourn's sense of humor about herself.

“She was a humanitarian, always looking for ways to help people, to bring them together through church, through school, through outside,” Northcutt said. “You couldn’t even go to the grocery store … we’d go get coffee, and all of a sudden here we were talking to these people. And I’m (saying) ‘I don’t even know them,’ and she’s (saying) ‘look, these are our new friends!’

“She wanted to nurture people. That’s what she did.”

Northcutt said she and Wilbourn would have gone for coffee after the pavilion dedication concluded.

“She always saw the bright,” Northcutt said. “She always saw the funny. She didn’t dwell on the bad stuff. We’d pray about it and we’d move on.”

Kim Bruton, who with her husband, Brent, owns the Runaway Train restaurant and Intermission Bookshop, said she and Nanda became friends through church.

“She certainly had a light about her, even before I got to know her,” Bruton said.”

She said they had both grown up in Irving, although their childhoods “couldn’t have been any more different. We lived zip codes apart, different years, different high schools, different everything,” Bruton said. 

But the Irving connection was “common ground for us,” Bruton said. 

Bruton went on to describe her friend as “so transparent in every situation. She had this ability to peer right into your heart … where we’ve been wounded, where we’ve been scarred over and how God was going to use that.

“I know she did that for everyone. Of course she loved her students but I feel like I got to be a student of hers. I got to see how she loved people, how she always looked for the good in things, even at the end.”  

Bruton read quotes from an interview Wilbourn gave to BrownwoodNews.Com in 2018. Wilbourn said in the interview she wanted to live her life with “intentionality and authenticity … I want to live my life on purpose.”

Joey Wilbourn thanked the city on behalf of the family including Wilbourn sons Caleb and Josh.

“Our family is so grateful that she’s being honored in this way,” Wilbourn said.  “Nanda was amazing. She affected people in ways that few people know how to do. She was passionate, she was full of grace, she was dedicated, she always made us laugh.

“I noticed for a long time that she changed the atmosphere of a room whenever she entered it. She loved what she did and she certainly had the work ethic to match per passion for it. What you saw in public was always true in private. She was authentic to the core. She was a gift to all of us.”

Wilbourn offered a prayer, saying “thank you God for the privilege to see the difference that one life could make.”