Cover photo for Anita Byrnes Rusy's Obituary
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1932 Anita Byrnes Rusy 2023

Anita Byrnes Rusy

May 6, 1932 — December 20, 2023



Anita Byrnes Rusy died on Dec. 20, 2023, at Agrace hospice in Fitchburg.   She was born Anita Loretta Byrnes on May 6, 1932 to Burchard and Helen Byrnes in Philadelphia.  Anita attended Mt. St. Joseph Academy in Chestnut Hill, Pa.  She graduated from Cecelia Academy of Mount Airy, Pa. and from Gwynedd Mercy Junior College, Gwynedd Valley, Pa.  Anita studied art at the Tyler School of Art, Cheltenham, Pa. She graduated from Temple University in nursing and worked as an Emergency Room nurse at St. Christopher’s Hospital for Children and as a nursing educator and supervisor at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia.  Anita met the love of her life, Ben Franklin Rusy, M.D., during his anesthesia residency at Temple University Medical School. They were married in Media, Pa. June 28, 1957 and honeymooned on North Bay in Door County.  It was Anita’s first trip to Wisconsin and she learned that Ben wasn’t joking when he warned her that the Rusy cabin did not have indoor plumbing. 

Anita and Ben made their home in Wyncote, Pa., where their four daughters were born in a five-year period beginning in 1959.   Ben and Anita lived in London in 1970-71, when Ben took a sabbatical and did research at University College London.  After a summer of traveling through Europe in a VW bus, their girls spent the year in British schools.  In 1976, the family moved to Madison, where Ben joined the faculty of the UW Department of Anesthesiology.  Anita enjoyed photography classes at UW-Madison.  Mostly, she focused on her roles as a wife and mother, and later grandmother and great-grandmother.  For over twenty years after Ben retired, he and Anita spent six months each year living in Door County in the Rusy cabin (rebuilt with indoor plumbing).

Anita was a fierce advocate for her daughters, their professional careers, and the rights of women and girls everywhere.  She read widely in books, magazines and newspapers, and frequently clipped stories of interest from the New York Times for family members.  Anita and Ben traveled extensively, visiting Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and South America.  Anita was strong-willed but loving and generous.  She was the undisputed matriarch of the Rusy family and was a beloved presence in the lives of each of her grandchildren.  She was happiest when she was holding a baby.  Anita was an excellent cook and an accomplished gardener.  She loved art, and exhibited works of photography.  She enjoyed classical music and the songs of Billie Holiday, whom she saw sing live in a Harlem nightclub in the 1950’s.

Anita is survived by her four daughters, Dr. Deborah Rusy (Mark Schessler), Dr. Lynn Rusy (David Brabson), Kimberly (Blaine) Renfert, and Kara Lee Rusy (special friend Jim Welch); her eight grandchildren, Ben (Maggie), Trevor (Renee) and Connor Schessler, Kelli Brabson, Austin and Logan Renfert, Erin (Kris) Schimmel and Kyle Harkin; and her five great-grandchildren, Oliver, Elowyn and Estella Schessler and Jonah and Liam Schessler.  Ben Rusy passed away Dec. 27, 2021 and Anita missed him terribly.  Anita was also predeceased by all of her siblings: Donna (of Madison), Sheileen (of Seattle) and Burchard (of Florida).

At Anita’s request, there will be no funeral or flowers.  Her family is planning to honor her at a private gathering in Door County at a later date.


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