Decades after she retired from the foreign service, even after her 100th birthday had come and gone, Brynhild (Brynnie) Rowberg stayed up to date on current global affairs, and shared her thoughts in daily e-mails with friends and family.
"She had a wit, and she had such a good memory. She remembered everything," said Avonne Kaplan, a cousin.
Born in Northfield, Rowberg graduated from St. Olaf College in 1939, and soon left for Washington, D.C., where she worked for the U.S. Department of State as a secretary. She later transferred to the Foreign Service, and her career as an officer took her to London, Athens, Bremen, Prague, Taipei, Saigon and Vienna.
After her retirement, she returned to Northfield, where she died at age 101 on May 17.
Rowberg was an icon to the women in her chapter of the League of Women Voters, where she served as president, said fellow member Bonnie Jean Flom.
"Her uncanny ability to recall details in scenarios from long ago only added to her charm," said Flom. "She was never one to boast of her accomplishments, but she was willing to share her experiences."
In 2010, the league held a celebration to mark the 90th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote, which featured Rowberg as a speaker.
"I recall that she reminded those in attendance of the fact that her own mother, at the time of Brynnie's birth, did not have the right to vote," said Flom. "To know Brynnie was to realize you had the privilege of experiencing a truly extraordinary person. I will forever be grateful for her friendship and how it enhanced my life."
Rowberg's entry into the Foreign Service in February 1945 was memorable. She traveled in a 90-ship convoy to London, which was attacked by a German U-boat. The convoy, though, was able to continue its journey.
By Rowberg's own account, one of the most challenging points in her career took place in 1968, after North Korea captured the crew of the USS Pueblo. A political officer in the State Department's Office of Korean Affairs, she was closely involved in the negotiations that ended up freeing the crewmen.
"I think one of the most rewarding moments I've ever had was to write the statement that the spokesman was to read when announcing that all 83 survivors and crew members were released," Rowberg said in a recent League of Women Voters interview.
In 1978, Rowberg suffered hearing loss, and her mother lost her sight. Rowberg retired and returned to her hometown to care for her mom, who lived to be 98. Besides her work with the League of Women Voters, she was involved at St. John's Lutheran Church and with the Minnesota Historical Society.
When Kaplan moved with her family to Northfield in 2003, she planned to look up Rowberg, who was her mother's second cousin. She didn't need to.
"She was on my doorstep within two days with welcome gifts. She was so interested in people," said Kaplan, who loved Rowberg's stories.
Once, Rowberg was talking about a party she's attended, and casually mentioned being asked to introduce Salvador Dali, the Spanish surrealist.
"I said, 'Brynnie, you knew Salvador Dali?' " Kaplan exclaimed. "And she goes, 'Well, yes.' "
After she moved to a nursing home, a whirlpool bath prompted another memory for Rowberg, Kaplan said. "She said to the gal who helped her, 'I haven't been this clean since I was in the Turkish baths in Istanbul in 1953.' "
Rowberg is survived by many relatives and friends. Services have been held.