Thomas Bearden Brown, after 90-plus years of a life exceptionally well lived, passed away earlier this morning. We will miss the laughter, wisdom, care and love of our father, father-in-law, and granddaddy more than can be expressed.
Daddy learned from the best. His father was a gregarious, loving man who never met a stranger. His mother was gracious, thoughtful, hard-working, and fair. Daddy had the best of those traits and if I don’t always exhibit them, it wasn’t for his lack of service as an example.
Daddy believed in serving his country, and as a World War II veteran he’ll have a flag draped across his coffin next week. A life-long New Deal Democrat, he believed in treating everyone fairly – whether they looked like you, thought like you, or held the same values as you. He never de-humanized anyone, and when I last spoke with him less than two short weeks ago, he was lamenting the level of our political discourse. Daddy could disagree with you, but he never disparaged you. (Well, maybe he did disparage Donald Trump a bit, but that could be forgiven.)
I think that’s what I’ll remember about Daddy the most. He tried his best to teach each one of us that everyone was human and deserved respect. Daddy and Mom expected us to use Mr. and Mrs. when speaking with African-American men and women in the 1960s, even though most of our friends used first names, if that. He loved history, but he understood that heritage is just history without the difficult parts, and he knew the difficult parts were real. Daddy and Mom took in Asian immigrants who came to Murfreesboro and treated them as family. I remember him giving food and money to street people, just as his mother had done years earlier at her boarding house, to help them get back on their feet. He believed in paying his fair share of taxes because we lived in community, and not everyone had the same benefits that we did growing up white, middle class, and privileged in ways we could not even understand. And when our gay son and transgendered nephew told their grandfather — in his late 80s at the time — of their life journeys, he may not have always understood, but he always told them that he loved them as much as he did any of his other grandchildren.
I’ve already said much about my father that I wanted to say when I posted 90 things about the wonderful life of Tom Brown to honor his 90th birthday last July. Here are just a few that describe my father to the core:
- Allowed all five of his children to grow into the people they are, instead of trying to force us into any preconceived molds. The consternation we each caused our parents in different ways and at different times (except for Debbie, who was always the perfect child) must have been hard to live through. But he stuck with his principles.
- Keeps his mother’s memory alive by sharing stories and sayings that he remembers from his childhood. One of my favorites (which I remember Grandmother saying to me on occasion) was “Make yourself useful as well as ornamental.”
- Has a very high respect for women and always treats them as equals. One of the things of which Daddy was most proud was the fact that Mom was the first female deacon in the history of First Baptist Church.
- Lives with a wonderful understanding of grace. He told us at one point that his mother’s favorite Bible verse was “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that is not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” Ephesians. 2:8-9. In the note to our family, he said that his mother often quoted it to him, and it had the most impact on his life.
My father always loved gospel music – and especially black gospel music. In his 80s he took a two-year sabbatical from his life-long Southern Baptist Church to attend the local black Baptist Church because it had a little spirit! And he would love Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin’s take on Oh Happy Day, because he believed – in the depths of his soul – that Jesus “Taught me how to watch, fight and pray.” He did each of those through 90 wonderful years.
Rest in peace and love, Daddy. Tom. Granddaddy.
More to come…