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Michael M. Brown, retired professor of biology and department chair at McDaniel College, dies

Dr. Michael M. Brown conducted research in microbiology.
Dr. Michael M. Brown conducted research in microbiology.

Michael M. Brown, a retired biology professor and department head at McDaniel College, where he had taught for 42 years, died of heart disease Aug. 30 at his Westminster home. He was 80.

“Mike understood science, how to do research, and he could communicate them to others,” said Wilbur “Bill” Long, a biology department colleague of Dr. Brown’s for 39 years. “He was a wonderful and an excellent man who had a high sense of right and wrong and stood up for it. The students loved him and they were always number one. They would flock to his classes.”

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Robert ‘”Bob” Repsher, a McDaniel graduate who taught biology at Westminster High School for 34 years, and later returned to his alma mater as a laboratory instructor, had been a student of Dr. Brown’s in the 1970s.

“He was a very astute and intelligent man who had a wide variety of interests. He was just incredible,” Mr. Repsher said. “He was not academically arrogant and always wanted to hear what others had to say.”

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Michael Mathison Brown, son of Donald Brown, a Bethlehem Steel Corp. manager, and his wife, Nancy Brown, a homemaker, was born in Palmyra, Pennsylvania, and raised there.

After graduating from high school in Palmyra, he earned a bachelor’s degree in biology in 1962 from Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, and obtained his master’s degree and doctorate in 1968 in plant physiology from the University of Delaware.

Dr. Brown began his career teaching botany that year at what was then Western Maryland College, now McDaniel College, in Westminster. He subsequently taught microbiology and served as department chairman from 1979 until 1989.

“Throughout his 42 years at the college, he was a dedicated professor and mentor to the students,” according to a McDaniel College note to the college community announcing his death. “He is best known for preparing undergraduates to enter medical school and graduate programs and for his strong connections with medical school deans.”

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Said Mr. Repsher: “A high percentage of his students got accepted into good medical and nursing schools.”

In addition to conducting research in microbiology, Dr. Brown served as a co-founder of the Summer Science Institute at McDaniel, which he headed from 1982 to 2000. He also organized National Science Foundation-funded workshops for high school teachers and science institutes for high school students. He was also the adviser for the premed program.

“When I came in 1973, I was put on a team teaching biology and society with Mike Brown. We even had an English professor on the team, and I taught ‘Moby Dick’ in a biology class,” Dr. Long said. “Mike was an excellent mentor and taught me all of the tricks and how to fit into the department.”

The two men, both pinochle players, became close friends. They restored an ancient telescope that hadn’t been used for years that was inside the observatory that sat on top of a building that was not used because it needed a new roof.

“In fact, it was sealed off, but Mike somehow found a key and in the evening we would sneak in there,” Dr. Long recalled. “The brass telescope was heavily tarnished and we set about getting it refurbished and we got it working. We’d go up on the roof and into the observatory at night and track stars.”

The two professors enjoyed playing another game with each other.

“It was a taped dime to which was affixed an arcane science question that was placed either in my office and then in Mike’s,” Dr. Long said. “Sometimes you knew the answer and other times you didn’t. It would go back and forth and our offices were about 50 feet away from one another.”

Dr. Michael M. Brown helped prepare undergraduates at McDaniel College for medical school and graduate programs.
Dr. Michael M. Brown helped prepare undergraduates at McDaniel College for medical school and graduate programs.

Dr. Long added: “He was always in his office and always available. He was my most valued colleague and friend. I just loved him.”

“He was the most prepared teacher, and his labs were amazing,” said Mr. Repsher, who retired from McDaniel in 2015. “Every year he’d redo his labs and he’d do the labs before the kids did. He’d write out a lecture and if he didn’t like it, he’d redo it. His preparation was just incredible.”

Dr. Brown retired in 2010.

His professional memberships included Sigma Xi, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Plant Physiologists, and the American Institute of Biological Sciences.

Dr. Brown cultivated a variety of interests. He enjoyed traveling, camping and sailing his Flying Scot, a dinghy, on the Chesapeake Bay. He was also a lifetime Civil War buff, an enthusiastic supporter of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, America’s oldest Bach choir, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

“He was a huge Civil War fan,” said his wife of six years, Marilyn Hanchett, a retired registered nurse. “He loved visiting Gettysburg and found his great-grandfather’s name, who had fought in the war, on the Pennsylvania State monument.”

He was an avid reader of nonfiction, and other interests included theater and ballroom dancing.

Dr. Brown was a communicant of Ascension Episcopal Church in Westminster.

A memorial service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Sept. 18 at the Myers-Durboraw Funeral Home at 91 Willis St. in Westminster.

In addition to his wife, Dr. Brown is survived by two daughters, Margaret Goodwin of Spartanburg, South Carolina, and Janet Walton of North Bend, Ohio; a brother, Eric Brown of New York City; five grandchildren; and a great-grandson. An earlier marriage to the former Beverly Anderson ended in divorce.

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