Barbara Brown Laing

Published 9:10 am Monday, December 3, 2018

Jan. 27, 1923 — Nov. 26, 2018

Barbara Brown Laing, 95. Barbara, married 72 years to D. Bruce Laing, died Nov. 26, 2018, of natural causes at her home in Dowagiac.

She was born Jan. 27, 1923, in St. Ignace, Michigan. Her parents were U.S. Senator Prentiss M. Brown and Marion Walker Brown. She spent her youth in St. Ignace with summers in Michigan’s Les Cheneaux Islands where she loved swimming and developed lifelong skills on the water. Her husband liked to joke that she was a better boater than himself and, in fact, she was. Her abilities as a ship’s captain were much admired.

Barbara Brown Laing

At 89 years of age on a bright summer day she drove her two daughters 16 miles across the north tip of Lake Huron to Mackinac Island and back in an open 20-foot family boat. Her schooling was split between St. Ignace and Washington D.C. She played trumpet in her high school band and received a scholarship from the Interlochen Music School.

In 1940, at the age of 17 she was named the National Cherry Queen of the annual Traverse City Cherry Festival and was flown to New York where, at the World’s Fair, she presented and cut the world’s largest cherry pie.

Graduating from high school in 1941 she attended the University of Michigan where she majored in political science. She was a member of Delta Gamma Sorority. World War II interrupted her studies, and she worked in her father’s Washington office.

After the war she returned to Ann Arbor and graduated in 1946. Barbara married her college sweetheart, D. Bruce Laing, in July 1946. The couple made their home in Dowagiac, and enjoyed vacations in their cottage in the Les Cheneaux Islands area of northern Michigan surrounded by family and friends. Barbara shared her love for Michigan with Bruce as the two of them regularly attended games in Ann Arbor cheering on the Wolverines.

For 15 years Barbara served as president of the Arnold Transit Co. based on Mackinac Island. Her interests included time as president of Dowagiac Jr. Arts Club and as a board member of the Ladies Library Association.

For many years she served as the University of Michigan Scholarship Chairman for Southwest Michigan. Barbara loved playing cards and shared bridge friendships in both Niles and Dowagiac.

She was an avid college football/basketball fan, a lifelong Democrat, and will be remembered as a friend to many, treating everyone she met with kindness while maintaining her dignity throughout her life.

Barbara is survived by four children G. Bruce (Jane Clagett), of Dowagiac, Anne (Bob Gottlieb) of, St. Joseph, Mari (Michael Cook), of Denver and James (Shelby Riccioni), of Stevensville. There are 9 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren and many nieces and nephews.

She was preceded in death by her husband, parents, three sisters, Nan Brown Rudolph (Mackinac Island), Ruth Brown Evashevski (Petoskey) and Patricia Brown Watson (Ottawa, Canada) and a brother, James J. Brown (St. Ignace). Two brothers survive: Prentiss Brown, of St. Ignace and Paul Brown, of Ann Arbor. Beautiful, clever, witty, and, especially, a gentle, kind and generous mother, Barbara was comfortably at home in any environment and possessed a gift of welcoming to all she met. She had a knack for making those around her feel special. Barbara loved and was, in return, much loved by family and those who knew her best. Private graveside services will be held in Dowagiac and St. Ignace. Those wishing to sign Barbara’s Memory Book online may do so at