There is no better testament to the positive impact William “Bill” Brown had upon so very many young people – and an equal number of adults – in Harford County than what his daughter, Judge Pamila Brown, said following her father’s death on April 25 at age 92.
“He was a great dad, he was a great mentor to literally thousands of students,” Pamila Brown, who is chief administrative judge for the district courts in Howard and Carroll counties, said. “He was really committed to making a difference.”
And what a difference he did make, as an athlete, teacher, mentor and coach, not to mention as a community leader in his hometown of Bel Air.
Mr. Brown is one of the people who worked determinedly to close the social and economic divide caused by the Jim Crow racial segregation that pervaded Harford County well into the 1960s.
He did so quietly, but forcefully, and if that appears similar to many of the descriptions of the late Jackie Robinson, there is a striking similarity.
Mr. Brown was born into a community that was strictly segregated along racial lines, as was the rest of Maryland and much of the United States.
As he grew into manhood, however, the times were indeed changing, from the Army, in which he served, to the playing fields in college and pro sports, to finally the classrooms of the public schools. He experienced and had a pivotal role in every one of the steps he took along the journey of life.
He was an NCAA track champion and a championship high school coach in the segregated and integrated eras of the county public school system. He was among the first group of African-American teachers who made the tortuous transition into the newly integrated schools and succeeded both on the athletic fields and in the classroom.
Those he taught and coached looked up to Bill Brown, literally and figuratively, because he was a tall man in stature and someone you wanted to be like, according to many folks who learned from him and worked with him and were proud to call him a friend.
“He was really committed to improving race relations and to equal justice and to making sure that everybody got treated equally,” his daughter said.
Roxanne-Redd Wallace, who first encountered Mr. Brown when she was a young student at the old Central Consolidated School and is a co-founder of the Campaign 42 movement which has been chronicling Harford County’s African-American history said: “We’ve lost one of our giants.”
Indeed we have. Harford County is a better place because of Bill Brown and his quiet dedication to equality and fairness. The examples his life bestowed upon us should never be forgotten.