Navy Trailblazer, Former MOAA Board Member Dies at 76

Navy Trailblazer, Former MOAA Board Member Dies at 76
Courtesy of Trent Bruyere via Navy Times

Capt. Kathleen Donahue Bruyere, USN, who fiercely paved the way for women to serve in Navy jobs aboard combatant ships and aircraft, and later served as a member of MOAA’s board of directors, died Sept. 3.

Bruyere, a former president of the Silver Strand Chapter in California, was 76. Family members said she had been fighting cancer – and maintained her energy and positive nature throughout her fierce battle.


“She was the most caring person that I’ve ever met – just a true unselfishness,” said TJ Bruyere, her stepson. “She was great at taking care of other people and liked to take care of other people.”

Bruyere enlisted in the Navy and attended Officer Candidate School, inspired by the service of her father, Lt. Col. Joseph Donahue, USA. She would go on to serve 28 years in the Navy.

She became the Navy’s first woman to serve as a flag secretary and aide de camp to an admiral. She served as head of Rear Adm. Allen Hill’s staff, working as the liaison between his headquarters and nine Pacific training commands.

Bruyere spent a large portion of her career fighting for women to receive the same opportunities as their male counterparts.

 

[RELATED COVERAGE: Navy Times | Philadelphia Inquirer]

 

In January 1976, Time magazine named her among 12 “Women of the Year,” alongside luminaries such as Billie Jean King and Betty Ford. In the article, she said “there will be a seagoing woman admiral in the U.S. Navy in the not too distant future.”

 

She would not become an admiral, but devoted her energy to creating opportunities for other women. In 1977, she and five other Navy women filed a class-action lawsuit against the secretary of defense and secretary of the Navy because the law prohibited women from serving on combatant ships and aircraft.


Her first marriage ended in an amicable divorce, and she met her second husband, Capt. Thomas Bruyere, USN, while they were assigned to a recruiting district in New York.

 

Her friends said Thomas was the love of her life.

 

The holidays were always a special time for the Bruyere family, TJ said. Kathleen was known for her pecan and pumpkin pies and cranberry bread – and wearing her beloved Dallas Cowboys football jersey.

 

“The thing that myself and my extended family here talked about – how there will be a void,” TJ said.

 

Bruyere’s love was always apparent, but especially as her husband suffered from Parkinson’s, TJ said. She never wavered. She devoted herself to caring for her husband and even set up a support group to help other families, which she stayed active in even after her husband’s death.

 

“The way that she cared for our father was an example for us,” TJ said. “That was the first time that I, as an adult, really had to see where somebody had to be cared for in that way and the commitment to it. It was admirable, and also set an example of how people need to be taken care of.”

 

Bruyere also spent time volunteering at California’s Miramar National Cemetery, where she regularly called the Patriot Guard to support funerals of fallen servicemembers who didn’t have family close by. She also volunteered with the George G. Glenner Alzheimer’s Family Centers and held numerous board positions at the Parkinson’s Association of San Diego.

 

'She Was Selfless'

Bruyere was a steadfast leader of MOAA, both on the national level and in her local chapter. That’s where she met Kathy Prout, a surviving spouse who helped in MOAA’s successful fight to repeal the “Widows Tax.” The women became close friends.

 

“She had such a positive outlook on life,” Prout said. “She was very kind and very supportive. She was just interested in what was going on in your life.”

 

Prout said that even as Bruyere was battling her own health issues, she continued to check on friends and members of the Parkinson’s support group, putting their needs ahead of her own.


“That’s just who she was – she was selfless,” Prout said. “She lost her husband, who was the love of her life, and to turn around and help other people get through it, just speaks to how kind and loving she was.”

 

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About the Author

Amanda Dolasinski
Amanda Dolasinski

Dolasinski is MOAA’s staff writer and covers issues important to veterans and their families, including health care, pay, and benefits. She can be reached at amandad@moaa.org. Follow her on Twitter: @AmandaMOAA