Wheaton Hale Brewer
Wheaton Hale Brewer must have felt constrained by his father's religious conservatism. Both his father and grandfather on the Brewer side were Episcopal ministers and headmasters of the religious/military academy, St. Matthew's Hall, that Wheaton attended before going off to Cal Berkeley. Once free of that family environment, according to his daughter Elizabeth, Wheaton declared himself an atheist. The rebellious stance was further emphasized when the young man, nicknamed Skin, became an admirer of an obviously homosexual English Professor, Harold Witter Bynner, who was coincidentally a first cousin of Wheaton's father. In a tribute to his poetry instructor, Wheaton contributed a lyrical poem to a collection of verses by Bynner's students who wanted to honor him when he was forced to resign. Wheaton's poem, titled "Oh, you'll come back", is featured on a website published recently by a Cal student group called Gay Bears.
Wheaton held a variety of jobs as an adult: army officer, produce broker, radio host for book reviews, and advertising executive for the California Farmer magazine. As a sideline, he wrote and published a few poems that were often sentimental or playful. An example of the latter is Modesto! Modesto! which was written for the Modesto City Council in the 1930's. A voice recording of Wheaton's own declamation of the poem has remarkably survived in cassette tape collections of some Brewer family members.
In 1920 Wheaton married Eleanor Burnham whom he met at Cal when both were students there. Making their home in Berkeley and later in Fresno, the couple had two children, Elizabeth and Robert. Eleanor suddenly died in 1927, and the children went to live with their Burnham grandparents who also lived in Berkeley. This arrangement lasted until Wheaton married Frances Duffield Bimrose in 1929. The marriage ended in divorce nine years later, but not before Jackson, originally named Wheaton, was born. Wheaton Sr. married again in 1941, this time to Helen Dorris Hooe who had two sons, John and Peter, from a previous marriage. Wheaton and Helen added two more children, named Susan and David, to their complex household. Ruth Brewer recalls an anecdote in which an exasperated Wheaton calls out to his wife, "Helen, come quick! Your kids and my kids are beating up our kids!"
At the end of World War I, Wheaton spent a few months with a Cavalry regiment on the Mexican border. During World War II, he served for more than three years in the Pacific theater ending up with a rank of Lt. Colonel in the Inactive Reserve. Some questionable internet references state that he was promoted, at some point, to general. The record of his burial at the Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno includes the cryptic notation "MAJ ENGR CONS COMD CAC". Perhaps a military expert will decipher that string of abbreviations some day.
As his father had done early in the century, Wheaton distinguished himself as an officer or member of numerous community organizations. He belonged to three academic fraternities, as well as to the Commonwealth Club and the Sons of the American Revolution among others. After playing Rugby in college, he maintained an interest in the sport and served as a coach and later as an announcer for the Cal rugby team. To balance all of these public activities, Wheaton enjoyed the solitude of fly-fishing in the Sierra and passed on this hobby to some of his children who did the same to theirs.
Wheaton died of heart disease at the age of 62 in 1959. Some details of his declining health and peaceful end are preserved in letters written by his wife Helen to step-son Robert stationed at the time in Karachi, Pakistan. The anguish over the loss of her husband was compounded by the trials of studying and training to be a teacher. To her credit she achieved her goal, living and teaching in San Francisco. Before she died, she donated two large cartons of Brewer family documents and memorabilia from three generations to the San Mateo Historical Association which now keeps them in the archives of the Redwood City Court House.
Elizabeth. (1921 - )
Robert Burnham (1924 - 1996)
Jackson Duffield (1931 - 2015)
John Robert (1932 - )
Peter Dorris (1935 - )
Susan (1941 - )
David Hale (1947 - )
Questions for further research:
1. What was the nature of Wheaton's relationship to his parents?
2. Did Wheaton join the Army because of his military high school background?
3. How did the Depression affect Wheaton's career and family life?
4. Which political party did Wheaton support and which national figures did he most admire?
5. Was Wheaton tolerant of disadvantaged minorities, and did he appreciate their contributions to society?
The sources for this biographical sketch:
Unpublished letters from Helen Brewer to Robert and Ruth Brewer
Oral history from Elizabeth Brewer Sprunger
Oral history from Ruth Brewer
Archives of the San Mateo County Historical Association in Redwood City, California
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