Inspirational, funny, beautiful, gifted, vibrant – and a true woman of substance.
That is how friends and colleagues describe Express & Star journalist Marion Brennan, who has died after a colourful career spanning more than 40 years.
Tributes have flooded in for the talented writer whose work included roles as a feature writer, women’s editor and senior news reporter covering a wide range of subjects from high-profile murder cases, crime investigations and family tragedies to local council spats, celebrity gossip and gardening tips.
Colleagues praised her formidable writing skills and said her straightforward and sensitive handling of often difficult topics helped her gain the trust and respect of people from all walks of life.
Marion, who died aged 67 following a hard-fought cancer battle, also wrote a moving account of her own diagnosis and her resolve to raise awareness of the cruel disease.
She hoped sharing her story would save other lives by highlighting symptoms of ovarian cancer, which are often difficult to detect until the advanced stages.
In a poignant article published in the Express & Star in March 2020, just months after her diagnosis and a few months before her retirement, Marion wrote: “If there’s something I can do to open people’s eyes to the possibility they may have it, or get it in the future, it’s sharing my own story.”
Marion, who worked for the Express & Star for 32 years, detailed her diagnosis and the aftermath of her surgery as well as highlighting the symptoms of ovarian cancer.
“I am a loving-life kind of gal. I love every small inconsequential bit of it – a well-made cup of tea, an apostrophe in the right place, a West Bromwich Albion win. I’m not ready to give up on these simple everyday pleasures yet,” she wrote in the article.
Her family have praised her courage and determination to continue living life to the full during her treatment. She retained her infectious sense of humour throughout her illness and refused to be defined by the disease, remaining relentlessly upbeat in messages to her friends.
“Marion’s immediate goal was to be clear of cancer for at least two years,” said her sister Bernie Simpson.
“But she didn’t make that. She sadly developed a brain tumour 22 months later,” she said.
The tumour was removed in the autumn of 2021, but last year more lesions were discovered and she underwent chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment. But her health deteriorated further at the start of this year as the cancer spread. Marion, who lived in Birmingham, passed away peacefully on March 16, surrounded by family.
“She never complained through any of it,” said Bernie. “She lived life to the full, and was full of life.
“She packed an awful lot into her 67 years. She was always on the go. She loved walking and climbing mountains and was climbing them still in September on a trip to the Lake District.
“Her nieces and nephews were her life and they worshipped her. She loved to treat them, taking them on trips and holidays and also taking them to matches at The Hawthorns,” she said.
Marion’s brother, Des, added: “She was amazing and we are so very proud of her.”
Away from the world of journalism, the devoted Baggies fan, who was extremely proud of her Irish heritage, had a wide range of hobbies, including painting, dress making and playing the violin, and she carried on with them between chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions and was hiking in the Lake District only a few months before her death.
Educated at Olton Court Convent School near Solihull, Marion went on to study journalism at the London College of Printing in 1975. Her first job was on The Bracknell News in Berkshire before returning to the West Midlands in 1980 to start work at the Sunday Mercury and Birmingham Mail.
In 1988 she joined the Express & Star and during her time on the newspaper she worked in features and news. In her 1988 application form, she provided an indication of her epigrammatic personality when asked reasons for leaving a previous position of TV Editor, she said it was because she was “heartbroken at the demise of Crossroads”.
Colleagues have spoken of the loss of an amazing writer and great friend.
Former Express & Star chief reporter for Sandwell, Ken Tudor, who worked with Marion for many years, described her as a ‘very special lady’ adored by all those who worked with her.
“Marion was a journalists’ journalist who could write the real hard news for the front page or turn out a beautifully-crafted feature on anything under the sun,” said Ken, who worked on the E&S for 38 years until his retirement in 2007.
“I saw at first hand for over 30 years how she was comfortable with people of all parts of society – at royal visits, political gatherings, picket lines or at protest marches.
“At work everyone who worked alongside her adored her. She inspired so many young journalists, particularly women, to embrace the profession and to always be fair to everyone they dealt with and she had a sharp eye for grammatical errors when she peered over your shoulder at your story.
“Since her passing I have been inundated with messages from former colleagues, many of them in top jobs, expressing their sorrow and despair, but remembering through their tears, with much love her joyful attitude to life and the vital assistance she gave to them.
“Marion loved her job at the Express & Star because it gave her the chance to do so many different things and at times to help people having problems with authorities. She pursued their grievances and was a stickler for getting a proper response to her queries,” he said.
“However, no matter how much she enjoyed our work and company, I know her warm and friendly and amazingly supportive family came first, and she talked incessantly about her siblings and her nieces and nephews. She was so very special to us all.”
Veteran Express & Star columnist Peter Rhodes added: “In the vast head-office newsroom of the Express &Star, you always knew where Marion was. Just follow the laughter.
“Marion and I were friends and colleagues for more than 40 years. In all that time, in a notoriously competitive profession, I never heard a single word against her, nor had a conversation with her that did not quickly turn to laughter. She was one of those blessed people who found humour in almost everything, and never took herself too seriously.
“She loved the job and she loved office life. From reporting, Marion graduated to feature writing. She was a perfectionist, bringing passion, perception and a great personal touch to everything she wrote. A lovely lady, taken far too soon.”
Express & Star Editor-in-Chief Martin Wright said staff past and present were devastated at the loss of such a talented and well-respected colleague.
“Marion was a first-class journalist and was very passionate about every story she worked on. Her writing style was second to none and younger reporters looked up to her as she offered huge encouragement and inspiration. She will be greatly missed by us all and our thoughts are with her family and friends at this sad time.”
Marion leaves behind sisters Geraldine and Bernie and brother Des, four nieces, two nephews and eight great nieces and five great nephews.
Her funeral, which the family want to be a celebration of her life, will take place on Tuesday, April 4, at 10am in Our Lady of Lourdes RC Church, Trittiford Road, Yardley Wood, followed by a wake at the church social club. Donations in her memory will be shared between ovarian cancer charity Ovacome and Cancer Research UK.
Marion’s article on ovarian cancer can be viewed at expressandstar.com/news/health/2020/03/28/learn-from-me-recognise-the-signs-of-ovarian-cancer