Family Memories of Dr. Bronner

In honor of my grandfather Dr. Bronner’s 105th birthday on February 1, here are some family stories that reveal a bit of what it was like to grow up with such a man as our grandfather. Some of these memories are my own, some are from my brothers and cousins, and some are from my dad and uncle.

Lisa Bronner and grampa

Grandpa was always a dynamic presence at health conventions and trade shows. Even here at Expo West in Anaheim, around 1993, when he was already suffering the effects of Parkinsons, he was still very engaging. I frequently hear customer stories start with, “I met your granddad at a show twenty years ago…” or “I called the number on the bottle and he talked to me for two hours!” He passed away from complications of Parkinsons in 1997. (I’m around 16 in this picture.)

From my dad’s early childhood emerged the stories of my grandfather giving very young Jim and Ralph rides on the front bumper of a ’42 Buick, while they straddled the bumper guards and hung on to the hood ornament. He knew how to have a good time.

Answering the phone growing up was always a little unpredictable. Without caller ID, we never knew who it might be – until we heard, “Mike! Have you memorized the Moral ABC yet?! Recite to me number 22!” or “Lisa! You must learn to type! It is the way of the future!” (I always got the easy ones.) or “You must spend three years of your life working with your hands! I laid bricks and it gave me the common touch!”

My cousin Eric and his high school friends have some fond memories of sleep overs when the phone would ring at 6 or 7 am Wisconsin time, (4 or 5 am California time). Eric would jump up from a dead sleep and answer, “All-One!” because who else would it be? “Eric! I need you to read to me from the biography of Karl Marx.” Eric had the entire Encyclopedia Brittanica set right by the phone for this kind of “emergency” reading session.

The Moral ABC was not just something he did for his work. It was his life. He felt that there was no time to waste in spreading his message of peace, that the world teetered on the brink of self-annihilation. And so, small talk never went over well with him. My cousin Mark tried, “Grandpa, how are the Padres doing?” “Mark! With nuclear bombs we’re all-one or none! Get it done!”

He had a very distinctive way of speaking: no extra words, with great emphasis, even an occasional poetic couplet thrown in. Straight to the point with a strong German accent, and there you have him.

And then there were the “man to man” talks, from which I was happily spared. These would inevitably occur in some painfully public place, like the lobby of the Las Vegas Hilton. “Mark!” (or insert grandson name here) “Have you experienced love yet?!” And there was no volume control for grandpa.

He loved the southern California sunshine and often sunbathed au natural on the roof patio of his house. And whether he was still under the impression that because he couldn’t see, neither could others, or perhaps he just didn’t care, he would conduct business meetings as such. One of the company’s longest working employees, who is clearly very go-with-the-flow, even had her initial job interview with him like this.

Gladys, his wife, called him Sparkles, and he had great trust in her. When fully blind, he would get his exercise by jogging alongside their car, holding on to the slightly rolled down window while Gladys drove.

There was no half-way with grandpa. It was all or nothing. When we went in to wake him at the time he set, he’d exclaim, “Give me 10 more minutes or I’m a dead man!” Or to his wife, “Gladys, I’ll give you a million dollars if you let me speak for 5 minutes!” Or of Mark, when he was a 19 year old student at UW, “Now I’d like you to meet my grandson, Mark, a professor of mathematics at the University of Wisconsin.” He had great confidence in what we would become.

Other people’s reputation or place in the world did not daunt Dr. Bronner. And so we have on the soap labels: “Kipling’s If with slight assist by Bronner”, “Longellow’s Psalm of Life with slight assist by Bronner”. He wrote letters of advice to every U.S. president, and he even tried to get a few on the phone.

He’s the only adult I’ve ever met to lie about his age – upwards. “Grandpa, why do you tell people you’re 72 when you’re 62?” “Because I’m in great shape for a 72 year old.”

16 thoughts on “Family Memories of Dr. Bronner

  1. I am sure you get this a lot but THANK you so much for providing fantastic products I can trust are safe!!

  2. Sweet sharing, thank you!! I love that he would say he was 10 yrs older – great concept – I think I will try that!!! I’m 64 and look great for 74! LOL RIP Dr B!

  3. I love his soap! He sounds like he was a great man and fun to be around. He certainly left an impression on everyone he met.

    I am wondering where you source your essential oils… I am sure they are organic, but what grade are they?

    Thank you,
    Denise

  4. Hi Lisa, Great post! Your grandfather certainly had a mission and his thinking was way ahead of his time. Thank you for sharing these memories of him. I think how your family is running the company is wonderful and I so appreciate all of your blog posts. I’ve loved rediscovering Dr. Bronner’s soap and its uses. (I first used it in 1979 on a camping trip. Was a required item on our checklist.) Keep up the good work! :)

  5. Thank you for sharing these wonderful memories. I love the photograph. Growing up with him in your life certainly made for a unique childhood – to say the least. I’ve used the soap for years, and I love hearing the stories about Dr. Bronner. “ALL ONE!”

  6. i think that is pure genius about lying upwards about your age, probably because i do the same thing, for the same reason. I really enjoyed reading this article about Dr bronner. I am sure he was a delight to know.

  7. Thanks, Everyone! I’m glad you enjoyed these recollections.

    Hi Denise – Our essential oils are sourced domestically and internationally, depending on the oil. Many don’t grow well in U.S. climates, and we also are looking for organic and fair trade, when possible, which aren’t all readily available domestically. Our peppermint oil comes from a fair trade operation in India. The organic lavender comes from one in Romania. Tea tree from Australia. The citrus ones are domestic. Let me know which others you’re interested in.

    Hi Deborah – Yes, you can definitely mix the scents. My dad often mixed the peppermint and eucalyptus and called it Euco-Peppo Bear Wash. You can also add your own essnetial oils to the unscented Baby Mild. You might have to shake the bottle at each use because they would separate, but it would work.

    All the best,
    Lisa

  8. Hi Lisa… I just found your website today and placed my first order with you. Thank you so much for all the valuable information and ideas found here. I just finished watching the documentary about your grandfather on Netflix as narrated by Ralph and others. A fascinating man and his legacy is a family who genuinely puts people over profit. I applaud your company philosophy and hope to be buying your products for many years to come. Thank you wholeheartedly for chemical and toxin-free products for our health and home!

  9. Thank you for this. I have been a longtime Dr. Bronner’s fan and have always wondered a bit about what he was like.

  10. This was so nice to read. I saw the movie Dr Bronner’s Magic Soapbox – loved him, what a character!

    Shout out to EcoKaren! She’s floggin’ this blog!

  11. Great stories… I love how he introduced his grandson as a professor of mathematics!:-)Thank you so much for the all of the amazing products and for the genuine integrity with which your family continues to run the company!

  12. I just love Dr Bonner’s products. I love the fact that his sons and grandsons are following in his path in creating wonderful soaps that clean the body and the soul. That his ideas on fair trade, workplace fairness, and high quality products are offered at a fair price. With the Bonner products I feel I am treating myself, others and the earth with respect. Thank you for hard work and dedication to great quality.
    A Dr Bonner product fan and user for life.

  13. I apologize for my late responses here! I am so glad to hear that there are so many fans who are in sync with all that we’re doing here at Dr. Bronner’s and with our family’s philosophy. My grandfather definitely left an amazing legacy.

    All the best,
    Lisa

  14. Just finished reading this and had to send a quick note. Wonderful stories – could not help but think about what a different place the world would be if every business and industry on the planet had someone like your grandpa at the helm. No kidding! All good wishes for every success in the future from a loyal customer who’ll be spreading the good word about your products at every opportunity.

  15. I love Dr Bonner products. I use the liquid soap, bar soap, face and body lotion, hair cream and hair conditioner. I am totally no-po and only use Dr.Bonners on my hair and body. I am true blue fan of all your products and your business model. I have become a preacher of the goodness of your products. Love you all.

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