After raising two sons, Mrs. Broom worked as a preservationist, restoring historic homes in the Old City and Fairmount sections. An elegant dresser with a strong sense of style, Mrs. Broom was known for her expertise in planning special events for charitable organizations throughout the city, including the Historical Society of Pennsylvania and the bicentennial celebration of the U.S. Constitution.
Whether she was attending society galas in Philadelphia or White House dinners in Washington, Mrs. Broom also was a practical woman who did not like to spend a lot of money on clothes. She usually made her own evening gowns, including one she wore to a White House dinner given by President Lyndon B. Johnson.
"I've seen her try on designer suits and then come home and cut them out
from memory," her husband recalled.
Broom, a former White House bureau chief for Knight-Ridder Newspapers, said his wife's outspokenness sometimes took others by surprise.
"She had strong opinions," he recalled. "Sometimes at dinner parties men were unsettled by her. She didn't like to talk about the usual things like child-rearing."
Broom said his wife had "a great belly laugh that all her friends could recognize over the sounds of some party."
"She had a sense of the ridiculous," agreed Patricia Herman, wife of former CBS correspondent George Herman, and a longtime friend. "She knew the fakes from the real people. . . . Birdsall didn't put on any pretensions."
George Herman recalled how Mrs. Broom came to terms with the disease that took her life, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) complex, or Lou Gehrig's disease.
"She faced it with a lot of guts," Herman said.
Mrs. Broom's interests included Wagner, her garden and Mexico, where she toured Mayan ruins.
Mrs. Broom was born in New York City, the great-granddaughter of Cabel Strong, a Massachusetts delegate to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 who later became Massachusetts' first U.S. senator and went on to serve nine terms as that state's governor. Mrs. Broom's mother was Martha Bodine Strong, a pioneering psychiatric social worker in New York City and one of the first women to attend Union Theological Seminary.
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Broom is survived by two sons, Scott and Tim, and a sister, Patricia Courage.
There will be a private burial Thursday at Newton Cemetery in Newton, Mass. A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 1 at the Main Line Unitarian Church in Devon. Contributions may be sent to the ALS Association, P.O. Box 507, Norristown, Pa. 19404.