On Sept. 9, just weeks after the death of her husband of 55 years, Marjorie Marie Brinkley, the mother of Christie Lee Brinkley, died at her Sag Harbor home. Donald Alan Brinkley, an award-winning television writer, director, and producer, died on July 14. The next day, their daughter said, his wife had a stroke, followed a week later by a heart attack. “She died of a broken heart” said the model and actress.
Ms. Brinkley said her mother was often called Miracle Marge, having survived seven or eight strokes, three heart attacks, an intestinal aneurysm with complications necessitating two operations, and two major brain surgeries, all while retaining “a positive spirit, bawdy sense of humor, and a magnificent smile that lit up the hospital.” But “losing the love of her life was more than she could bear,” she said. Her death came weeks before her 82nd birthday.
Born in Monroe, Mich., to William Harrison and Mamie Cecil Bowling on Sept. 23, 1930, Ms. Brinkley lived in Malibu, Rancho Mirage, and Beverly Hills, Calif., as well as Kailua-Kona, Hawaii before moving to the East End, where the Brinkleys spent their last years. They were great travelers, exploring Europe, China, and the Soviet Union, sometimes via the Orient Express.
“An avid Democrat with an open mind,” her daughter said, she once accepted an offer to join the press corps following Ronald Reagan on a presidential trip to Panama. She also ventured on safari to Africa. The family lived in London for a time while Mr. Brinkley was working for the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Her mother was always up for an adventure, Christie Brinkley said. “When she was younger, she would body-surf with my brother and me. She was fearless and would jump on my brother’s Hobie Cat and crash through the big surf for a sail, trusting his ability to get her back to the beach safely.”
Ms. Brinkley loved to entertain. She had great style, said her daughter, and a flare for interior decorating. She subscribed to almost every newspaper and magazine imaginable —“her lap was never empty.” She cut out clippings from the papers and used them for murals, wrapping paper, and decoupage, and often sent articles to friends and family. Those missives were primarily informative, sent to loved ones to keep them safe and healthy, her daughter said, and “everyone loved getting her envelopes of love.”
Mr. Brinkley adopted Christie and her brother, Gregory Donald, who lives in New Mexico, when they were 8 and 9 respectively. He was their “dad, not stepdad,” she said firmly. She was running an errand, she said, when they met, as her mother watched from a car. The eight-year-old knocked on the wrong door, and the man who answered, after kindly helping her find the right one, noticed “the beautiful lady with the worried face who called out to me.” He then walked her back to the car. “I introduced them!” Ms. Brinkley said.
They were married in the gardens of the Hotel Bel-Air in Beverly Hills and flew off to Majorca, then to Spain and Portugal, “and the honeymoon continued for the rest of their lives.”
The family moved into Mr. Brinkley’s Malibu beach house, where they enjoyed his “always-playing” record collection and crowd of friends and neighbors. “Dad gave us all a whole new beautiful life,” his daughter said.
As a producer, Mr. Brinkley was often tied to a studio, and the family would join him, whether it was 20th Century Fox, MGM, or Warner Brothers. Wherever they were, her mother created a warm and welcoming house, which often became headquarters for the children’s friends, Ms. Brinkley said.
The Brinkleys were “huge Lakers fans” with season tickets. Their daughter said they went to almost every game and enjoyed talking with the players and fans at the clubhouse. Later in life, they watched from their house in Sag Harbor, where they could be heard from outside “hooting and hollering.”
Mr. Brinkley was a member of the Writers Guild, and as such he received first-run movies in the mail. Both husband and wife loved watching movies. “Their living room would turn into a cinema,” said their daughter.
In later years, she said, “in whatever far-flung corner of the world I was living,” her parents would visit, from Paris and Mexico to the mountaintops of Colorado. They went on tour with Billy Joel when he was their son-in-law. They helped with all the babies, too, even sleeping in the nursery. They were “a huge part of the excitement,” Ms. Brinkley said, and whenever she and her brother were able, they flew back to Malibu or Kailua Kona with their families for seaside reunions.
Gregory Brinkley, a chef who owned a popular health food restaurant in Albuquerque, came here regularly to visit his parents, said his sister, adding that “when he was around, the family feasted royally on healthy fare.”
“Our mom was the original health nut. The whole family was vegetarian. Carob-covered rose hips was the only candy she allowed her kids.”
The Brinkleys lived on the South Fork twice, first in a house near their daughter on Further Lane, and then, seven years ago, in Sag Harbor, where, said their daughter, they enjoyed plays at the Bay Street Theatre, long summer lunches on the terrace at the American Hotel, and cozy winter dinners by their fire. Most of all, she said, they loved being wherever their family was. “They loved what we loved, and were always happy and grateful just to be together.”
Ms. Brinkley had seven siblings, two of whom, James Bowling and Juanita Keefe, survive. Two brothers, William and Glen Bowling, and three sisters, Bea Atkins, Betty Crabtree, and Ethel McLaughlin, predeceased her.
A tree-planting ceremony will take place next spring, to memorialize both Marjorie and Donald Brinkley. Memorial donations have been suggested to the American Heart Association.