Barbara “Bobbie” Brown was a lifelong learner who continued to educate herself up until her death on April 28, at age 88, after suffering a stroke.
Brown worked the New York Times crossword every day, even as she experienced dementia in her final years. She was also a devoted subscriber to the New Yorker magazine, which she gifted to family and friends to increase their erudition. “I was the only 12-year-old in my elementary school who had my own subscription to the New Yorker,” said her granddaughter, Molly Porter.
Brown grew up across the street from Kenwood elementary in Minneapolis, which launched her interest in a wide range of subjects. “She was a liberal arts sort of person in the best sense of the word,” said her daughter, Tamzin Brown.
When she was a teenager attending the Northrop Collegiate School for girls, Brown met her husband, Tim, who went to Blake, the boys’ school. (As an excuse to connect, she planned a dance and asked his band to provide the music.)
Brown earned degrees in English and theater from Smith College, then returned to Minnesota and got married. The couple settled in Hopkins and frequently compared their enduring friendship to that of the storybook characters Piglet and Winnie the Pooh, even naming their son, Chris, after Christopher Robin.
Brown acted at the former Star Theater in Hopkins and in a training video for University of Minnesota secretaries that modeled efficient work (a role she knew well from her job as a secretary for the chair of the theater department).
She later served as president of the Stagehands, a volunteer group that helped bring the Guthrie Theater to Minneapolis and get the fledgling organization off the ground by raising funds, selling tickets and hemming costumes.
Brown was an excellent seamstress who sewed herself chic Jackie Kennedy-style shift dresses. But she wasn’t afraid to get grubby.
As her husband’s career wound down, she spent several years working as a docent at the historic Oliver Kelley Farm near Elk River, where she donned prairie dresses and bonnets and re-enacted 1800s life as authentically as possible — cooking over a wood stove, churning butter, making soap — right down to letting the farmhands steal a cooling pie off the windowsill.
At the farm, she called everyone a “dearheart” and often expressed how lucky she was to be playing house and getting paid for it, said Suzette Forrer, a Kelley Farm colleague and friend. Brown also loved being around the farm’s furry animals — “she could not pass up hugging a dog or a cat,” her daughter said — and ended up adopting a couple of Kelley barn cats.
Brown enjoyed learning new things and teaching others, starting the Junior Great Books program at her children’s school, participating in the women’s study club Peripatetics and acquiring a second B.A. in anthropology and an M.A. in textiles and clothing when she went back to school after her kids were grown.
Attending Guthrie shows with family members became a cherished tradition, her granddaughter said, especially when Brown won a walk-on role in “The Christmas Carol” through a fundraising auction.
“Philanthropy and support for the arts and animal organizations and history were really important to her,” Porter said. “She demonstrated the idea that to whom much is given, much is expected, and taught me the importance of giving back to the community and engaging with others to try to make the Twin Cities a better place.”
In addition to her daughter and son, Brown is survived by four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter. Services have been held.