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Van Martel Brathwaite, who served in the D.C. government for decades, always put his daughter first

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Van Martel Brathwaite always made sure his daughter Caprice had everything she needed, because he was both mom and dad. Caprice was a toddler when the family was in a car crash that killed her mother, Sharon Brathwaite, and Van never remarried.

Even during the years he worked as an assistant general counsel for the District’s Department of Health, he was never so consumed with his job that he didn’t take time to check on her.

“I loved my dad and he loved me so much,” Caprice said in an April 17 Facebook post. “Yesterday he took his final breath and I couldn’t be there. My aunt and I begged the physicians to let me come and see him but they couldn’t allow it.”

Van Brathwaite, a resident of Beltsville, Md., died April 16 of covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He was 67.

Family members and friends said Brathwaite had a passion for the law and for his Seventh-day Adventist congregation. He liked fixing family members’ cars. And he “was always dependable if there were tasks to be done,” said one of his brothers, Colin Brathwaite.

But his biggest focus in life was his daughter, who recalled one trip the two took to Dubai, where they rode camels. “He got to ride a camel. How cool,” Caprice wrote in her Facebook post. “He was a funny dad.”

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Van Brathwaite was born Nov. 4, 1952. He had three brothers and a sister.

“My father was an immigrant from Barbados in 1944. He was a laborer. My mother was doing missionary work and she met my father in the hospital,” said Colin Brathwaite, who is a Seventh-day Adventist pastor from Silver Spring.

Colin Brathwaite said his parents raised their children in Rochester, N.Y., and worked hard to send them to Pine Forge Academy, a Seventh-day Adventist Christian boarding school in Berks County, Pa. Van Brathwaite would have celebrated his 50th class reunion in May and had been looking forward to it before the coronavirus crisis hit, his brother said.

Van Brathwaite graduated from Pine Forge Academy in 1970 and went on to Oakwood University, an Adventist school in Huntsville, Ala., where he earned a degree in physics. He explored engineering jobs and took classes at Ohio State University and other schools. But in the mid-80s, he took a step that changed his career path when he was accepted into the Howard University School of Law.

“He was serious. He was always reading and also studying,” Colin Brathwaite said. “Whatever he did, he put everything in it.”

W. Sherman Rogers, a professor at Howard’s law school, said he joined the faculty in 1986, the same year Brathwaite entered as a student. He said Brathwaite was a man with deep religious convictions who didn’t compromise. He recalled that his former student refused to celebrate on his scheduled graduation day from law school because it fell on his sabbath.

“I arranged a special graduation service for Van at the Howard U. School of Law — in the elegant HUSL chapel — as Van chose not to participate in the Saturday commencement exercises due to his religious beliefs as a Seventh-day Adventist,” Rogers wrote in a letter to the family.” Law school administrators participated in the graduation.

“It was a wonderful event. I remember it vividly some 31 years later in 2020,” Rogers wrote.

Caprice followed her father’s example and went to Pine Forge and Oakwood. After she graduated in 2014, she was admitted to Howard, where she earned a master’s degree. She now works in the mental health field.

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Van Brathwaite served as the assistant general counsel for the D.C. Department of Health for more than two decades.

Phillip Husband, general counsel for D.C. Health, said Brathwaite worked primarily in the licensing of the tens of thousands of nurses in the D.C. area.

“He was seen as the dean of health professional licensing law,” Husband said. “He knew the law well because he wrote many of the laws.”

“He always had a good disposition,” Husband said. “He had a good laugh.”

Colin Brathwaite said his brother began suffering from a fever in April and canceled a walk the two had planned, saying he had been sweating heavily the night before. Van Brathwaite went to Johns Hopkins Hospital for treatment.

“I talked to him on the phone and he said people up here were dying by themselves,” Colin Brathwaite said. Family members said a test showed Van Brathwaite had contracted the novel coronavirus.

“It is hard to believe that he is not here,” Colin Brathwaite said.

Van Brathwaite was buried April 23 at George Washington Cemetery in Adelphi, Md. That day, Caprice posted her feelings on Facebook.

“Today was hard,” she wrote. She said she “stood over my dad’s grave and just stared, bleeding from my heart with pain, and in tears,” as about 10 family members and close friends gathered via Zoom to pray and mourn.

When someone suggested they all return to the nearby Metropolitan Seventh-day Adventist Church in Hyattsville to continue prayers, Caprice said she went along with the idea without giving it much thought.

“Right before we got to the church, I saw a bunch of cars parked on the side of the road. I didn’t think anything of it,” she wrote. She began to notice familiar cars, familiar faces and people started honking, she wrote.

“That’s when I realized,” she wrote. “Over 100 cars had shown up to support me. To stand in the gap. To love me. To pray for me.”

“I needed that,” she wrote. “And I’m so thankful.”