Obituary: Above all, Lawrence Brown was 'believer in people'
- Article by: JEREMY OLSON
- Star Tribune
- March 21, 2012 - 11:52 PM
On his 90th birthday, Lawrence Brown received a gift from his children and grandchildren -- a list titled "90 Important Things About Papa.'' It ranged from everyday qualities such as "baseball player" and "mini-van driver" to obscure titles such as "grammar police" and "pretend movie hater."
Few summed him up as aptly as Item 78: "Believer in people."
Brown, who grew up in Minneapolis, fought in a segregated unit in North Africa during World War II, coached youth sports in the Twin Cities and co-founded the Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis, died on March 14 at his home in Golden Valley. He was 92.
Brown -- known to many as Larry or Bubba -- never forgot the guidance he received at the Phyllis Wheatley Settlement House, a community center that was opened in the 1920s for immigrants and black families. He later served as a board member and mentor at Phyllis Wheatley and continued into his 80s as a mentor for Minneapolis students. Older teens often received the gift of a dictionary after their sessions with him were done.
"He loved to work with kids," said Jo Brown, his wife of 55 years. "I think he probably should have been a teacher, because he really enjoyed it."
Brown coached youth baseball and football, and was an assistant football coach at Minneapolis North High School.
He played football on scholarship at Mankato State College and studied at the University of Minnesota, but his education was disrupted by his service in World War II. He didn't earn a college degree until his retirement decades later, when he completed course work at Metropolitan State University.
By that time, he had already been a tax auditor for the Minnesota Department of Revenue, a deputy director of the Urban Coalition in Minneapolis and an executive for the Hayes contracting company.
His career included an unusual two-year stint in the 1960s in Uganda, where he helped establish an income tax-withholding system. His wife recalled one of their first days in Uganda, when he asked a waiter to tell men at the other end of a bar to quiet down.
"Sir," the waiter replied. "That is Colonel Amin. He's the head of the army. I don't think it would be proper for me to tell him to be quiet."
Seeing families travel to the University of Minnesota for cancer treatment compelled Brown to help found the first Ronald McDonald House in Minneapolis. He used his skills and contracting connections to renovate an old fraternity house.
More recently, he volunteered for the Red Tail Squadron, a locally based organization that honors the black pilots who flew in World War II as "Tuskegee Airman." His brother Harold was one of those historic pilots.
Brown didn't want a funeral and donated his body to the University of Minnesota Medical Center. Friends and family will celebrate his life April 7 from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Calhoun Beach Club.
They'll no doubt remember items 89 and 90 from the list of Brown's qualities: "Proud papa" and "Great example."
In addition to his wife, Brown is survived by two children, Kevin and Janine. A third, Laurie, died in childhood of leukemia.
Jeremy Olson • 612-673-7744
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