Thurman was a retired teacher at St. Paul’s Day school in Alexandria and served as director of Christian education under four rectors. At St. George’s she served on the Vestry in 1983, 1984-1986 and then in 1990 but she died that year of cancer in the beginning of the term. She was a member of the worship commission and was active in Christian Education. Thurman Brisben will be forever remembered for her work to establish a homeless shelter. Catherine Hicks who worked closely with Thurman said that she “had a smile as broad as the Pacific Ocean and her arms were always wide open.”
Rev. Charles Sydnor remembers Thurman’s work : “Hope House stayed full and as we turned away persons we realized not only our need to expand, but the need for alternatives, as homeless single persons were not always a good mix with the families and children of Hope House. My Associate, The Rev. Judy Fleming, led the effort to get area churches taking turns setting up cots in church basements and providing supper and breakfast. Ed Jones was one of many volunteers to provide all night supervision and I remember conversations we had recognizing that the majority of homeless people were not, to out surprise, addicts or mentally ill, but working people who just couldn’t make ends meet.
“Our devoted parishioner Thurman Brisben’s passion for justice for the poor was the fuel that fired the whole effort. Her dedication was inspiring and contagious. She was fond of saying that as long as we had enough to eat and someone else did not, something was wrong and we needed to fix it. A Homeless Shelter Board was formed and for awhile vacant Maury School became the shelter. This was a thoroughly ecumenical effort and we were blessed when Barbara Gear of the Fredericksburg United Methodist Church joined with her zeal and energy. The search for a permanent year round site began and many more choruses of “not in my back yard,” were heard before Hunter Greenlaw, a developer, agreed to a short term lease of his property on Essex Street until he was ready to redevelop the area. Forty churches provided volunteers and in December of 1992 the house that love built, as Barbara Gear called it, was opened and was named in memory of Thurman as the Thurman Brisben Homeless Shelter.”
The shelter remembers Thurman , “During the first few years, the shelter only operated during the winter months and only at night. The doors were closed during the day because the volunteers had to go to work. But there was one place the homeless could always go, and one person to whom they could always turn — Thurman Brisben. During the day she kept an office at Saint George’s. She was always there to listen, to counsel, to help find medical attention, to provide guidance through social services applications, and to help find jobs. Many remember her at the Maury School location as the “the tiny lady with white hair who looked like the wind could blow her over.” But she was strong and when she stared down (actually, up) a client, he or she would do anything Thurman asked!