Burnece Walker Brunson, a beloved community icon most affectionately known to many of us as “Queen Mother Brunson” or simply “Mother Brunson” has transitioned to join the ancestors at the age of 102. Mother Brunson was a TSU alumna, and activley maintained her affiliation as an alumni cheerleader into her second century. A native of Mount Pleasant, Tennessee, Brunson moved to Chicago for a better education, where she got her first taste of cheerleading in high school.
“It fulfilled my desire to stay physically active since there were not many sporting activities for girls during those days,” Mother Brunson has said about the high school experience. After high school, Brunson decided to attend Tennessee State University (known then as Tennessee A & I State College) in 1933, and the following year she joined the cheerleading team.
“Cheering for your favorite players and entertaining your fans feel like you are also part of the game,” Brunson said in a recent interview. “It is home; it is family. My love for TSU has no end.”
As a member of the TSU Alumni Cheer-leader Association, she was a fixture at Homecoming parades and football games, still shaking her pom-pom to cheer on her home team. A retired school teacher, Brunson returned and performed with the team at age 87 during the 2003 Homecoming, and did so nearly every year after.
In 1936, Brunson received her teaching certificate. She went back to Chicago and earned a bachelor’s degree from the Chicago Teacher’s College and a master’s degree from the National College of Education in Evanston, Illinois. While in Chicago, Brunson was the first female hired there to serve as a lifeguard. Brunson returned to Tennessee and make Nashville her home; the place where she developed unforgettable collegiate memories. She maintained a large swimming pool at her home which was frequently filled with her extended family and neighborhood youth during the summers.
Many will recall that Mother Brunson was featured as ABC World News Tonight’s “Person of the Week,” in 2016 for her longevity and TSU team spirit.
“She’s still cheering; proving to us all what it means to be forever young,” said David Muir, the anchor of ABC World News Tonight, and Person of the Week host. Brunson was a Grand Marshall at the 2016 TSU Homecoming, where she was honored at several events, including a scholarship that was established in her name. During the festivities, a film crew shot footage for a PBS special on HBCUs, which included Brunson.
“Ms. Brunson truly embodied the spirit of TSU; we were blessed to have her with us for so many years, and especially as a symbol representing the legacy and proud tradition of the university,” said TSU President Glover. “She will always be in our hearts. Our thoughts and prayers are with her family.
Extended and close family members said Mother Brunson passed away Sunday, January 28 at her Nashville home surrounded by family and friends.
“They actually were having prayer and holding her hands when she passed,” said Dawn Dopson, Brunson’s great niece.
A prolific writer, Brunson tried to spread her wisdom in one of about a dozen books she wrote, including Food for Thought: Nourishment for the Soul, which gives tips on how to navigate life’s challenges. When asked what advice she would give people today, especially youngsters, she smiled, then replied: “Do the right thing, in every way.”