Brenda Ravenell had the strong academic smarts that one would associate with lawyers — but more than merely a brainy person with a degree, Ravenell was a compassionate force for the voiceless.
Though she achieved many professional accomplishments in her life, Brenda’s proudest moment very well might have been traveling to London last October to witness her daughter Adebunmi Gbadebo’s art show.
“She was very family oriented and her daughter meant the world to her,” said Ravenell’s sister, Daneen Cooper of Maplewood, New Jersey. “For her to bear witness to something her daughter worked so hard to achieve — I’m just so glad that happened.”
Brenda Ravenell died April 4 due to complications from COVID-19. She was 64.
Born in Maine, where her father was stationed in the Air Force, Ravenell moved often as a child. There were stops in Brooklyn, Japan, upstate New York, back to Brooklyn, and eventually Roosevelt, where she settled with her sister, younger brother, Derek, father, James, and mom, Carrie.
With their constant relocation making finding friends difficult, Cooper and Ravenell sought solace in a friendship with each other.
“We were both smart and athletic. I was the bratty younger sister and she was the motherly type,” Cooper said. “She was the valedictorian of her high school class. Very studious and goal oriented, but also very caring. We used to recite Langston Hughes poems together.”
After earning her bachelor’s degree in political science from New York University, Ravenell went onto Rutgers Law School in Newark. There she met Helena Lai, who would become a lifelong friend.
“Brenda exuded a genuine sincerity, kindness and concern that made people comfortable in her presence. There was no artifice or posturing in her manner,” said Lai, of Bayside, Queens. “I will remember many long talks we had — first as law school roommates staying up way into the night talking about anything and everything.”
An attorney for more than 30 years, Ravenell focused mainly on personal injury, landlord-tenant disputes and family law. According to Cooper, the profession was perfectly suited to Ravenell’s belief in the fair treatment of every person.
“She felt it was her duty to make sure anything wrong would be righted,” Cooper said. “That was ingrained in her approach to the law.”
Complications of diabetes forced Ravenell to retire in 2017. A year later, when her condition required a kidney transplant, her daughter donated one of hers.
Her positivity and dedication to religion was unflappable, even when faced with tragedy. In November 2019, the youngest member of the family, Derek, died of cancer at 49. Then, on March 8, family patriarch James died from a heart attack while recovering from shingles and a MRSA infection at a rehab facility in Hempstead — the same facility where Ravenell was recovering from diabetes complications.
“He had a tremendous resolve, rarely complained and would sacrifice everything for his children and grandchildren,” Cooper said of James. “He had such a big smile and calm disposition that it would melt your heart.”
Cooper said Ravenell’s daughter is planning a memorial service for her in 2021, once COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted.
Ravenell is survived by her daughter, sister and her mother.