Irvin “Brownie” Brown – Rest in Joy

Yesterday I got the news that my former colleague and friend, WSTA Lucky 13 personality, and culture bearer “Brownie” passed from this realm. May he rest in joy.

Thanks to a bill sponsored by Senator Dwayne DeGraff, the Irvin “Brownie” Brown Street was christened this year. I am so glad Brownie got to smell the sweet bouquet of those roses while he was with us! Thank you Sen. DeGraff, the 32nd Legislature and Gov. Kenneth Mapp for signing the bill into law. A special thank you to Dr. Symra Dee Brown, Brownie’s daughter, for inviting me to speak on behalf of her father for the record.

Below is the full text of my summarized verbal testimony:

Dear Senator DeGraff:

It is a privilege to contribute to the discussion surrounding your proposed legislation: “A Resolution honoring and commending Irvin “Brownie” Brown, Sr. for his significant contributions to the culture and music of the Virgin Islands”, Bill No. 32 – 0146, signifying that the portion of General Gade, which runs from the intersection of Veterans Drive up to the intersection of Silke Gade be renamed “The Irvin “Brownie” Brown, Sr. Road”. As I have always called him “Brownie”, it is how I will refer to Mr. Brown here.

I am excited about the prospect of Brownie receiving such an honor, for a number of reasons.

(1) I consider Brownie responsible for all that I am today. That may sound far-fetched, as we are not related, nor do we communicate daily. There are months, sometimes years between us actually seeing and speaking with each other. But, as anyone who has ever met Brownie will tell you, he lives under a love umbrella that he is always happy to share. You may cross paths even for a moment, but you will remember that full smile, his warmth, and his intent to make your moment better, your life greater. It all started on a beautiful summer’s day in 1983. I encountered Brownie in the lobby of WSTA Lucky 13. I was there to audition to sit in for radio personality Lorraine “Lolo” Milliner for just a few weeks while she vacationed. Someone who had also seen me had noticed my cleft lip. Aside, he told Brownie that it made no sense to try me out, because it was obvious that I would have a speech impediment. Brownie insisted that I at least be given a chance, and I was let into the production room and given things to read and say off the cuff, and I got the temporary job that led to expanded roles, many of which shaped me. That is Brownie’s style. He believes that everyone deserves to at least have a chance. He expects the best from you on sight, and he treats you that way. When I did stateside radio, people would marvel at how I was able to be so versatile in live situations and I told them “I learned everything I needed to know about radio from King Obstinate, Brownie and The Funky Man” – they laughed but had to appreciate!

(2) Brownie displayed multiple talents. It is said that you could lock Brownie in a darkened closet with a microphone, and he could give you Carnival parade color over the airwaves because his vivid imparting of the cultural excitement and his encyclopedic knowledge of the histories of the bands, troupes and key players for the yearly extravaganza were so well set even decades ago. His enthusiasm was genuine; it was not work to him. Carnival is part of him. He channeled its splendor to the world over WSTA 1340 AM in Lionel Roberts Stadium events, in the Carnival Village, and of course, the parades. He did not flag, and by the end of the season, his voice was a gravelly rasp. But that smile and spark burned brightly and never failed until the last lap was done. Many do not know that Brownie also functioned as an on site engineer, back before the high tech, Remote IP enabled setups of today. He could throw up a Yagi (antenna) with the best of them, work with the sound team (from his experience with bands) and was able to provide support for the programming in the field. In radio here, you have to be an all-arounder, and Brownie was that. A truly independent talent, he could go anywhere for remotes, charm anyone into being a part of his broadcast segments. WSTA’s Sales Department benefited from his combined abilities through the years.

(3) Brownie is a family man and he loves his children dearly. I can only imagine the soft spot he has for his grandchildren. He gave them the life he could not have due to circumstances beyond anyone’s control. He loves them all, that much is clear. He was an example; his children saw him work hard, and be responsible to his clientele, his audience, his colleagues and his community. They learn their life lessons from him and know him so intimately. As a parent, Brownie is exacting; he expects a lot from his children because he wants the best for them. The result of this loving work is children who have been able to define their own lives for themselves and make the world better through their efforts. Through the years, it was clear that his children were a constant in Brownie’s life; I saw them all as infants, toddlers, and youngsters around him at the station and throughout his busiest time of year, Carnival. I remember one year I was producing the Carnival season at WSTA, when I created a second shift that enabled me to give Brownie the night off after the parade. A few of his children were hanging on his arm, expecting him to be working right after that day-long event and they were walking with him, trying to catch a few moments with their dad. When I told him his services were no longer needed for the night, he turned to them and said, “We can go to the Village!” and their cheers and hugs were all he needed. I can still remember him walking off with them to a rare night of fun. Life does not get better than a memory like that.

(4) Brownie is an ambassador. His very being vibrates with all that is dear to the U.S. Virgin Islands: its music, culture, cuisine, Carnival, and connection to the Diaspora in the nearby British Virgin Islands. His alter ego, Walter, speaks as a Tortolian, with sharp and outrageous commentary on the minutiae and larger issues of the day. Brownie’s “Original Side of Brownie and Walter” brought his dueling sides together to the delight of listeners, and even now you can never tell when the irrepressible Walter will chime in out of turn. Brownie was the king of “off the cuff” and always seemed to have a “hip pocket speech” at the ready; I remember when the local Toastmasters honored him although I cannot recollect the year. I do recall his mother announcing to us that when he was younger, she worried that he would want to go to college and that she would not have the money. She was relieved to hear from him that when he grew up all he wanted to be was a Tortola Boy. It was then that I knew where he got it; his mother Eunah Brown knew how to make a way out of no way, and her son made her proud. Brownie was also a boat captain, was honored by Rotary Club of St. Thomas II as Person of the Year in 1988, and is everybody’s Santa. There are countless other things he has done, as noted in your proposed bill, but most of all Brownie resonates the very essence of his childhood home in Savan and these Virgin Islands.

I do hope that the legislative body will agree with you and move to commemorate a great man who only wants happiness and love for everyone, and has done nothing but give with all that he has. Thank you for your indulgence and your time.

Anita Davis St. Thomas, VI