Bronwen Gates


Bronwen Gates sits in her house on a warm Sunday afternoon.

On a rainy day in Lancaster, England, a young Bronwen Gates sat waiting for her turn to read aloud two paragraphs of David Copperfield. The other girls were not good readers, yet she dare not jump ahead for the fear of being caught. It was ultimate boredom, the dullest of the dull; for it was the outside of the classroom that Gates cared about.

It was her sense of adventure and a handsome young American that brought her to the United States. After discovering she was not cut out for being a teacher in her English homeland, she traveled to New York City, where she first began volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History. She was 26 years old. It was there, sitting at the front desk with her “cute little British accent” that Gates confirmed what she wanted to do with her life.

“I knew from when I was eight years old that what I wanted to study was plants and animals, rocks and nature, and the human body,” she said. “And I felt if I could spend my life doing that, I would be the happiest person alive.” From that moment in the museum, Gates would go on to do just that. She began to work at the New York Botanical Gardens and began her coursework for a Ph.D in botany. It was at that time her professor invited her to continue her studies at the University of Michigan. Gates agreed, and began her life in Ann Arbor. There she met her husband, with whom she had three children. She was far from a fairy tale ending, though.

In 1985, Gates’ marriage ended in divorce. Looking back, it was one of the most painful things she has gone through.

“I had been brought up to believe that divorce was wrong, so I was being criminal in some sense, if I did that, but I watched my kids and I watched what they were being put through and I said ‘I’m going to do this sinful thing because I do not want my children to grow up thinking that this is how a husband treats his wife.’”

Gates’ three children, all adults now, have since thanked her for making the decision to end her marriage.

“They got to spend time with each of us and they got to learn our strengths and weaknesses so… as painful as it was, I do believe I did the right thing.”

Gates now works as an official “joy coach,” as she has named it.

“I have clients, people who come to see me because they want help in making their lives more fun,” she said. “I teach people to enjoy their lives more.”

She also continues to teach people about plants, her true life passion. “I try to make sure I enjoy every day and I consider that to be the most important thing I do.”

But no matter how much Gates has grown to love Ann Arbor, she knows it will never truly compare to her homeland. “It’s a wonderful city, but still the thing I miss is, I like rock. I like rock because you can stand on rock and get a vista. You know, where you can stand somewhere and you can see this whole landscape in front of you… I could climb up on the mountains and get up on the cliffs, I could look out the back windows of my family home and across the fields I could see the river and the hills beyond that. I was so fortunate.”