Jonathan Brett Newburn

HALEIWA, Hawaii – “The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long”

Almost one year after his diagnosis of a stage IV glioblastoma brain tumor, J. Brett Newburn died peacefully at home in Haleiwa, Hawaii, in the early morning of April 25, 2021. He was cared for to the end by the love of his life, Sarah Speed, and supported by his many friends and family who came to Hawaii to be with him in his closing days.

Brett is survived by his brother, John Christopher Newburn of Quincy, Mass.; his father, John Newburn and stepmother, Harrah Lord of Rockport. Brett’s mother, Marjorie L. Newburn died in 2013.

Brett was born and raised in Whitman, Mass., attending the public schools there including Whitman-Hanson RHS. A good student, he played varsity soccer, and won a Boston Globe Gold Key Award for art, a talent he nurtured and applied throughout his life. He attended Saint Michaels College in Vermont earning a B.A. in English and Art. While in Vermont he also honed his taste for skiing; an appetite he sought to satisfy more fully in Aspen where he moved after college. There he undertook a range of coming-of-age jobs; he mixed music for clubs, illustrated fliers and menus, managed a pool hall and grog shop, and learned how to lay tile for a high-end tile company. This craft he assiduously refined and made his core livelihood for over 20 years.

After several years in Aspen he settled in Maine. In his tile work Brett was able to blend superb craftsmanship with artistic sensibility, at one point winning a Maine Municipal Project Art Grant for a new middle school in Kennebunk installing a multi-panel mural at the school’s center. Always working independently, Brett spread his exceptional work among residential, commercial, and architectural projects.

The urge to explore the unknown and get close to nature exerted an irresistible pull on Brett. Not long out of college he got his first motorcycle and realized how liberating it could be to travel light and discover new and beautiful places. He soon spent as much time as he could afford camping and traveling the country with like-minded friends. He loved his big off-road KTMs and BMWs. Riding became an animating element in Brett’s life and brought him immense joy, peace and inspiration. Few things gave him more satisfaction than heading into the wilderness, setting up camp, and enjoying the simple pleasure of friends’ company under an open sky. He particularly enjoyed discovering out-of-the-way hot springs wherever they existed. His biking destinations included Mexico, Alaska, Newfoundland, and frequent trips throughout the west and southwest.

By his own measure, his 51 years had been good and fully lived. Unconventional by common standards, Brett never married, had children, owned a home, or followed a typical career path. But by other valued measures he lead an exceptionally rich and enviable life. He was fortunate to enjoy the affection, respect, and loyalty of superb friends with whom he could travel, share books and ideas, savor fine cuisine, and enjoy life and laughter to the fullest. He had a wonderfully edgy sense of humor and the absurd, a trait cherished and widely appreciated. Through his art and tile work projects, he left an enduring imprint of his creativity and unique aesthetic. He was a voracious reader with his Kindle nearby and a stack of books always on deck ready to share with his reading friends. A sceptic by nature, he rarely accepted received knowledge without close examination, and had little patience for posers and self-promoters. His love of nature, his contemplative temperarment, and his irrepressibly positive outlook, helped him achieve an equanimity that served him well.

Although Brett spent much of his adult life in and around Portland, he also lived and worked at times in Jost Van Dyke (BVI), California, and Florida, applying his skills to furniture making, molding, boat-building and repair, plane restoration or pen and ink drawing. His last year, spent in Hawaii, was his effort to surround himself in natural beauty, believing as he always did, that nature was among the best balms for ailments of all sorts, including his own. His death was planned and made possible by Hawaii’s Our Care Our Choice Act, through which qualified terminally ill patients can achieve a planned and dignified death. He died on his own terms, a contented many with Sarah at his side.

Condolences and memories may be shared at A Celebration of his Life will be announced in the future.

Guest Book