Through every chapter of her 85 years, Mary Braden lived a life of tenacity and reinvention.
Born in San Antonio, Texas during the Great Depression, she went on to travel the world. Slotted into the role of Army wife and mother, she eventually carved out a successful career for herself. An early lover of painting, she spent her final years immersed in the world of art.
Mary started down a traditional path for her time, leaving college to marry her high school sweetheart, Donald Biesenbach. She raised four children (including two years on her own while her husband was stationed overseas) and picked up and moved the household eight times across the country and around the world.
In the late ’60s she went back to school and earned her bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Texas at Austin. The campus environment of that period awakened in Mary a lifelong passion for politics, civil rights and the women’s movement, and ignited her desire to find her own path in life.
After the family’s final move to the Washington, DC area, she embarked on a 30-year career in the federal government. She started out opening mail in the office of a United States Senator and rose through the ranks of the legislative and executive branches, reaching the highest echelon of the civil service.
She was a legislative assistant for two members of Congress, including eight years with Rep. James C. Corman of California. In 1981 she joined the newly established Office of Government Ethics, where she was charged with designing and launching a program to train executive branch employees on the laws and regulations that govern their conduct.
After seven years in that job she was hired by the Justice Department to establish an ethics program for department employees. She ultimately created and ran a separate departmental ethics office, where she developed training programs, oversaw a team of deputies and provided advice and interpretation of standards of conduct and the law to senior officials.
Among her proudest moments were the occasions in which she advised Attorney General Janet Reno, whom she admired greatly and who respected Mary’s counsel.
In 2002 she retired from government as a member of the Senior Executive Service Level III and got busy writing the next chapter of her life. She took classes at George Washington University, worked out regularly at the gym, and was a founding board member of the community nonprofit organization Dupont Circle Village.
Her greatest passion was working as a docent at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where she kept a busy schedule sharing her knowledge and love for art by leading public museum tours. She was also an avid collector of contemporary art.
In her personal life, her first marriage ended in divorce in 1976. Later she met and married the love of her life, Edward Gottfried, with whom she spent many happy years until his death in 1995.
She lived in the Dupont Circle neighborhood just short of 30 years, and richly enjoyed city life. She had impeccable taste in fashion and home décor, a sharp wit, and a strong point of view on anything she cared about. She read voraciously, closely followed current events and politics and traveled extensively though Europe, Asia and South America.
Mary died in her home September 24, 2021 of pulmonary lung disease, which robbed her of her breath and energy but not her spirit or sense of humor. (The disease’s origins are a mystery, as she was never a smoker.) To the end she kept her home care aides and family on their toes and laughing.
She is survived by four children from her first marriage: David Biesenbach of Alexandria, Virginia, Betsy Biesenbach of Roanoke, Virginia, Barbara Spitzer of New York City and Rob Biesenbach of Chicago; and by two stepchildren from her second marriage: Bryan Gottfried of Rolling Hills, Kentucky, and Karen Hutchison of Fairfax, Virginia; along with five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
According to her wishes, Mary’s body was donated to George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences for research purposes. Anyone wishing to honor Mary’s memory is encouraged to make a donation to Dupont Circle Village.
At this time we do not have a formal memorial service scheduled but will update those details when something (probably virtual) is planned.