Suzanne Brill obituary

Francesca Brill

My mother, Suzanne Brill, who has died aged 88, began her working life as an actor and radio presenter in the US before morphing into an advertising copywriter and, following a move to the UK, changing career again to become a translator of books from Italian into English.

Born in Utica in New York state, she was the second child of the poet Marguerite Steber and the journalist Harry Seward. Her unconventional free spirit led Sue to acting at a young age. At 12 she was a member of the repertory company of Utica’s WIBX radio station, appearing in a different play every week. She left home at 16 to go to the Leland Powers drama school in Boston and at 19 she was touring America in various theatre shows.

In 1951 she began working at the KVOR radio station in Colorado Springs, presenting its late night show in seductive tones as Sleepytime Sue. As well as spinning the discs she had to find a way to mention the sponsors of the show, which she did so effectively, and with such characteristic wit, that before long she was headhunted by the New York advertising agency JW Thompson as one of its first female copywriters. In 1958 she was offered the chance to spend a few months in their distant outpost in London.

Soon after arriving in Britain Sue met Hans Brill, a naval officer who had emigrated to the UK from Austria as a child refugee. After they had known each other for only two months she agreed to marry Hans on condition that he left the navy, which he did, embarking on a distinguished career as an art historian.

Throughout the 1960s and 70s, while holding down her job in advertising and bringing up three children, Sue took O-levels and A-levels, followed by a degree in Italian and history of art from Birkbeck, University of London, and then a master’s degree in the same subjects at the same college.

Having transformed herself into an academic she then translated into English Carlo Pedretti’s definitive book on Leonardo da Vinci’s architecture, Leonardo, Architect, (1985) which was nominated for the John Florio prize for its translation. Her favourite project, however, was her triumphant translation of the artist Filippo Marinetti’s 1932 Anti-Pasta Manifesto, The Futurist Cookbook (1989), which introduced a new fusion of cuisine, art and absurdist humour to Britain.

Hans died in 2001 in a car crash in France. Sue continued to write, to travel, and to encourage and inspire her many friends and colleagues. As a pensioner she took full advantage of her concessionary travel Freedom Pass, and saw virtually every play and exhibition that London had to offer, on a schedule that would have exhausted someone half her age. Her warmth, intellectual curiosity and open-minded engagement with the world brought encouragement and positivity to everyone she encountered.

She is survived by her children, Pippa, Marius and me, and seven grandchildren.