By Erik Bottcher

2020 will be remembered as a year that delivered a seemingly endless parade of nightmares. There is no shortage of reasons to feel despondent and demoralized. 

During this most terrible of years, one thing that has given me hope is the life of my Grandmother, Irene Harriet Brimlow. She passed away on October 21st, a month and a half shy of her 104th birthday.

POSITIVITY AND KINDESS WERE HER TRADEMARKS: Erik Bottcher with his Grandmother, Irene Harriet Brimlow, who passed away on October 21, just shy of her 104th birthday. Photo courtesy of Erik Bottcher.

Grandma was born in the Bronx in 1916, two years before another pandemic swept the globe. In her lifetime, she witnessed changes that are truly astounding.

She was born twelve years before the discovery of Penicillin. Before Penicillin, a simple cut or a scratch quite often led to death by infection.

A century ago, every third child died before they were five years old. Today, the child mortality rate has fallen below 4%.

Some people of her generation traveled West in covered wagons, and returned East in jet powered airplanes. 

Grandma was born a year before New York State granted women the right to vote and four years before the ratification of the 19th amendment. The prospect of a female president or vice president of the United States would have been inconceivable then. Certainly, the prospect of an African American president would have been inconceivable – something Grandma lived to see. 

She and her contemporaries lived through the 1918 pandemic, which killed an estimated 50 million people worldwide. They lived through two World Wars, the Great Depression, unspeakable atrocities around the globe, including the Holocaust, the depths of Jim Crow segregation, and a nuclear arms race that brought us to the brink of annihilation. 

In her lifetime, Grandma watched New York City rise, and fall, and rise again. 

Hope is in short supply these days. It sometimes feels like we’ll never prevail in our struggle for a better world. But my grandmother’s lifetime gives me hope for what is possible in our time. 

But progress isn’t inevitable. People fought like hell for the progress that was made in my grandmother’s lifetime. They put their bodies on the line, their lives on the line. That is what we must do. 

We need to fight to end poverty. We need to fight to end systemic racism. We need to fight for universal healthcare, universal housing, and universal income. These goals are not impossible. In fact, I believe with all my heart that they are achievable within my lifetime.

I’m writing these words before the November 3 presidential election. Its outcome will have massive consequences for the future of our world. Regardless of its outcome, we must remain hopeful, and keep pushing. 

The thing I admire most about Grandma, in addition to her devotion to family, is that she never spoke an ill word about anyone. Positivity and kindness were her trademarks. It’s something I try to emulate in my own life. 

Look to older people in your life, and have hope. They have been through more than we have, and they have persevered, as will we.

Erik Bottcher is Chief of Staff to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson and is a candidate for New York City Council, District 3. His website is

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