Cover photo for Nancy Richter Brzeski's Obituary
Nancy Richter Brzeski Profile Photo
1925 Nancy 2023

Nancy Richter Brzeski

January 2, 1925 — December 17, 2023

Nancy Richter Brzeski was born in New York City in 1925. The only child of pioneering lawyer Ella Graubart and Henry Richter, an engineer on the World Trade Towers, Nancy grew up in Pittsburgh, PA, where she attended her beloved Falk Laboratory School, a defining experience of her childhood. Some of her happiest memories were of trips to New York to visit her uncle John B. Gambling, host of the popular radio show Rambling with Gambling on WOR, and her Auntie Rita and cousin John Alfred, who was like a younger brother to her. There she developed a lifelong taste for fancy restaurants, sailing, and the joys of family life. She was also very devoted to her Granny, Dora Graubart, an immigrant from Hungary, who took care of her as a small child. Throughout her life Nancy kept Granny’s memory alive, and felt very connected to her Hungarian roots, and also to the music of the Roma people that Granny had loved.
Nancy received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, and her M.A. in sociology from the University of Chicago. In her 20’s she worked as a union labor organizer for Amalgamated Clothing Workers, CIO in rural Pennsylvania. In 1947 she married Christian Bay, a visiting Norwegian political scientist. They moved to Oslo, Norway, where they lived for four years, working at the Institute for Social Research. Nancy loved her life in Norway, learning fluent Norwegian, and she maintained close relationships with her in-laws and many friends there even after she and Christian divorced amicably and she returned to the US.
In 1957 Nancy moved to Berkeley, California. She got a job at UC Berkeley as Departmental Secretary and Librarian for the Scandinavian Department. It was during this period that she met and married her second husband, Andrzej Brzeski, a visiting Ford Foundation Fellow in Economics from Warsaw, Poland. They moved to Detroit for a year, and then back to California, where Dr. Brzeski joined the Economics Department at UC Davis. There they raised two children, Eva and Jan. Their family also came to include Andrzej’s daughter Agnieszka, who moved to the US from Poland, and later Agnieszka’s husband Joseph and two daughters, as well as Jan’s wife Nicole and two sons.
Andrzej belonged to three international organizations, and he and Nancy traveled extensively throughout the world, attending conferences and visiting friends abroad. They lived in Davis together for 54 years, making frequent trips to San Francisco to attend the opera and enjoy city life. They shared many interests, in movies, literature, classical music, especially opera, fine dining and adventure. A dynamic couple, they shared a playful sense of humor and a great capacity for enjoyment. Over the years they also came to deeply appreciate the value of quiet domesticity: their beautiful home and garden, happy hour by the fire, and time spent with family and friends.  Andrzej passed away in August 2019, just days before his 94th birthday. They had been together for almost 60 years.
In addition to her work as wife and mother, which always came first, Nancy was a parent volunteer in the Davis schools, teaching art and creative writing. She also studied concurrently in the UC Davis Art Department, taking classes with Wayne Theibaud, Bob Arneson, Cornelia Schulz, William Wiley  and others for 30 years. A pioneer in the field of Dream Art, Nancy presented her work at numerous juried art shows of the International Association for the Study of Dreams, and gave ongoing grants for the Best Dream Art of the Year. She had many one-woman art shows, and participated in a group show in San Francisco. She was a founding member of a long-standing dream group in Davis, and attended the Unitarian Church for many years. Returning to Falk School in 2007, she taught Dream Art and Theater to students there. In 2008 she was honored as the Most Outstanding Alumnus of the Year.
An avid tennis player, who used to say she wanted to die on the tennis court “at the height of a serve”, Nancy was also a gardener, gourmet cook, dancer and a formidable opponent in double solitaire, which she played after dinner almost every night of her adult life. A devoted mother, stepmother and grandmother, she was very proud of her family, one of her greatest joys in life, and she dearly loved her many friends, near and far. She practiced daily yoga and Buddhist meditation for many decades, and had a lifelong interest in spiritual development. She attended Zen and Kadampa Buddhist retreats and volunteered at Zen Hospice in San Francisco, and she maintained an authentic spirit of inquiry throughout her life. In 2020 she began writing her memoirs, which can be found, along with her art, videos and her book, The Passionate Art of Nancy Richter Brzeski, at
Whenever her kids would leave the house Nancy would always call out “Have fun!” This sums up her approach to life. Whether traveling, sailing, or just lying on the couch listening to music, Nancy knew how to enjoy life. Her exuberance and passion for living were an inspiration to her friends and loved ones of all ages.

On December 17th, 2023 Nancy died peacefully in her home of almost 58 years, surrounded by love. She was almost 99 years old. She is survived by her children, Eva and Jan, her stepdaughter Agnieszka and son-in-law Joseph, by her daughter-in-law Nicole, and by her grandchildren: Luiza, Alicia, Richter and Leighton.


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