by June Pichel Cook
CRAFTSBURY – Reverend Arnold Marshall Brown, Pastor Emeritus of the United Church of Craftsbury, passed away on November 23, just five days short of his 94th birthday. His passing was observed with an outpouring from family, friends, neighbors, parishioners, and many others.
Some are strangers to each other from afar – Massachusetts, South Dakota, Canada, Prince Edward Island, England, Ireland, Kenya. Others are close neighbors, where his life is enshrined indelibly on this community.
The joie de vivre that Reverend Brown brought to life and imbued to others, an optimistic sense of joy and engagement, resounds in the outpouring of shared remembrances and reminiscences.
A universal theme is infused throughout: Reverend Brown’s compassion for all life, selflessness and generosity with all people, optimism and positive visions, a healing force with dynamic energy and understanding of human foibles with benevolence.
His engagement with life was infectious, embracing the very young to the very old, no matter in what capacity he encountered someone, a friend in the community or a stranger in his duties as immigration officer. His positive energy, humor, sermons, love of music and literature, Robert Frost poetry, magic tricks, and the sense of “just being in the now” was integral to who he was as a man, husband, father, minister, immigration authority, friend and human being.
He loved stories and loved telling stories. Beverly Thurber noted, “Although, Rev. Brown was known for his rambling, no one questioned his kindly intent or genuine desire to share, however rambling or expanding. His stories were like a quilt threaded with strands of time and knotted with love.”
Before ministering at the little church on the Common in 1961, Reverend Brown served as minister to the Rosebud Larger Parish in South Dakota. When retiring in 1986 from the United Church of Craftsbury, another life phase began with Brown’s Beautiful Blueberries on Coburn Hill. Throughout his years in Vermont, he served as a U.S. Immigration Inspector on the Canadian border, as well as in Ireland, Kenya, and Montreal. All these arenas of his life made an impact on whomever he encountered.
Both daughters, Belinda Brown and Gretchen Brown-Boudreau, remember their father’s expansive love of life, generosity and selflessness, his living with a fullness every day of his life.
Brown-Boudreau said his “front porch during blueberry season has it all — that sense of community it creates is something he strove for his whole life. It demonstrates his generosity and curiosity (meeting new customers), and he just loved the buzz of activity.”
She said her father loved the idea of a blueberry farm that created a product people enjoyed picking together and that enhanced their health as a side benefit. The bringing together of people was one facet of Reverend Brown’s central being.
Belinda Brown said her father had an ability to bring disparate groups together. He first organized the Old Time Fiddlers’ Contest, understanding that form of music was being lost. The contest brought old and young together, swelling crowds on the Common and keeping alive a tradition of music.
“The vital activities he envisioned grew in the community” she said. “He was a Renaissance man with eclectic and many varied interests. His interest in people was deep – he really wanted to know everything about you. He enjoyed people so much. His life was one of inclusiveness and acceptance.”
Belinda Brown said she was eight when they moved from South Dakota to Vermont. Her father had a full beard because of a centennial celebration in South Dakota; he had to shave it off. Once, to fulfill President John F. Kennedy’s fitness program, her father walked over 25 miles from the Derby Line to Irasburg and was wearing shoes that left him with blisters.
Knowing another person’s stories and telling stories pervades through many of the shared memories of Reverend Brown. His capacity to focus on a person, making them feel of special interest, is valued by many who knew him.
Son-in-law Phil Lovely said Reverend Brown “loved people and knowing them.”
“For years,” Lovely said, “we would go down to Prince Edward Island, driving for 14 or 16 hours and we would talk non-stop. It was a free form conversation, an amazing time together.”
Lovely said that Rev. Brown was known as the Poet Laureate of the immigration station in Ireland, having written a poem honoring President John F. Kennedy’s sister, Jean Kennedy Smith, in Dublin, Ireland. He was called upon more than once to write a poem; later he published his book of poetry but euphemistically called it “doggerel.”
Rev. Brown did not drink alcohol but fit into the Irish pub scene with his love of music and camaraderie, often singing Irish ballads. Lovely recalled going to Burlington with photographs that his father-in-law had asked be given to The Clancy Bros. who were performing at the Flynn. They immediately responded, Lovely said, even though this was totally out of the blue and I was a stranger. Rev. Brown was an avid photographer and would leave his camera hidden in a brown paper bag in his unlocked car and with the key in the trunk. Belinda Brown said her father each year took a picture of her horse, Toka, (who lived 30 years) to give to her.
He always thought of others and was very ecumenical in his views, she said. He referred to the churches in town not by denomination, but location – church on the Common, church in the village, church in East Craftsbury. He purchased a large statute in Ireland of St. Patrick to give to Our Lady of Fatima Church.
He was untiring, working two jobs most of his adult life – delivering firewood at 2 a.m. to a needy family, driving a stranger to Boston after finishing Border Patrol duty that night, always being present in his ministering. In numerous Facebook outpourings, many with fondness recalled Rev. Brown marrying them.
Operation Friendship (OF) and Rev. Brown’s Youth Fellowship gatherings were instrumental on impacting young people’s lives.
Scott Reed noted, “Only a few people come along in your life that have an impact, not only on mine, but everyone else.”
Reed recalls that after Rev. Brown’s first sermon at the church on the Common, a parishioner castigated the new minister for not using the correct version of the King James Bible. At the same time, another came with a box of freshly picked raspberries.
“Arnold was quite taken aback for the first parishioner,” Reed said. “but embraced both. He saw the best in everyone.”
“I was with him the day JFK (President John F. Kennedy) was assassinated. I was just 10 years old. There are days you never forget. He (Rev. Brown) was able to connect to anyone regardless of age. Operation Friendship was a watershed in my life, growing up and never having gone anywhere and being able to go to Northern Ireland at 17. He appreciated everyone from all walks of life.”
Belinda Brown recalled a story of her father’s early ministry in Craftsbury. A Greensboro resident, Priscilla Mitchell and friend were leaving the church and the friend said, “That Rev. Arnold Brown doesn’t know how to preach.”
Mitchell’s rejoinder: “Isn’t that wonderful.”
Joe Young was also in junior high school when Rev. Brown “came to town.” He, too, was involved in the church youth group and later became a border patrol officer thanks to Rev. Brown who gave him the application.
“Arnold had a big heart and loved to talk,” Young said. “He loved people. Everyone who came into contact, loved him. He would help anybody.”
Nonagenarian Rachel Farrar, who just celebrated a birthday, said Rev. Brown and Judith, his wife, were long, lifetime friends with her and her family.
Although she knew Judith better because of their work together in the church, community, school, and Ladies Union, Farrar recalled Rev. Brown as “very genuine, compassionate, big-hearted, and doing a lot of good for a lot of people.”
When Ron Sanville was in junior high school, he, too, fell under the influence of Rev. Brown. Sanville recalls youth fellowship meetings and Rev. Brown taking them bowling, to the movies, and to many other activities. In later years, Rev. Brown was honored with the Knights of Columbus Award, the highest award given in the state, for his selflessness, achievements, and community work; Sanville had nominated him.
Sanville said that Brown would work all night at the Beebe Plains border patrol and then spend the day transporting people and being active in the church.
Diane Sanville also recalls Rev. Brown and early beginnings of the Collinsville choir. She was in junior high school. “We would have projects and discussions, maybe, of something we had been through that day,” Diane Sanville recalled. “He guided me. I remember summertime Bible school and going as a youngster.”
The music and choir bring back the fondness of memories, Sanville said. She explained Rev. Brown would call them on a Saturday night to say that someone liked a particular song and country music and could they sing it that Sunday.
“We would get together before church and do it,” she said. “We made a record of people who did music in the church and worked on that together.”
Diane Sanville often plays her guitar or is an accompaniment for soloists at the United Church of Craftsbury. Her gift of music is still enjoyed and Rev. Brown’s beautiful, rich voice is still remembered.
“Arnold Brown,” she said, “was part of my life, one of the first people who made the biggest impression by his example. He didn’t just preach, he lived his whole life giving of himself. He just didn’t talk-the-talk but walked-the-walk. He would go around and visit regularly with people; he would listen.”
Beverly Thurber, who plays the piano at the UCC, recalls, “Music to Arnold became the universal bond between persons. He inspired the Ecumenical Community choir and became the magical bass in the church choir of combined ages.” (Thurber was the director.)
She said, “Arnold Brown always related personally to all people and genuinely sought to bring people together regardless of creed, race, or gender. He always saw the good in every person and drew it out.”
Joan Simmons said Reverend Brown was like Martin Luther King or Mahatma Ghandi. He had marched in Washington for civil rights and protested against the Vietnam War.
“He was totally selfless,” she said. “He lived his life as a shining example. He marched with Martin Luther King. He was an amazing man who was sincerely interested in everyone and wanted to know their history.”
Rev. Brown leaves a rich legacy wherever and whoever his life has touched: Flowering of the Easter Cross at church on the Common, Old Time Fiddlers and Banjo Contest, Christmas Eve midnight service, annual birthday supper, annual midnight ringing of church bells on New Year’s Eve, vigil in September as children return to school and summer visitors leave, ice cream socials, caroling, skating parties, skiing down the Toll Road on Mount Mansfield, sledding parties on Post Road.
When Reverend Brown entered the U.S. Navy, he served as a chaplain’s assistant, that early yearning morphed into becoming a minister. He graduated from Tufts University with a degree in History and Masters in Theology. Rev. Brown served as Chaplain to the Meridian Sun Lodge No. 20 for many years and was a life member of the local chapter of Masons.
For years he was a beekeeper, hunted fossils when living in South Dakota, recited poetry, participated in Miss Jean Simpson’s Shakespeare plays, carved monkeys out peach pits, carved walking sticks out of thorn apple branches, did leather tooling, loved music, delighted children with magic tricks, and often recited the alphabet backwards to entertain.
After Rev. Brown lost his sight, David Stoner was one of his readers.
“When I completed a book or story and began searching for the next subject to read, often he would suggest poems, many of which he could continue to recite if I paused too long in my reading. Our scheduled reading time often turned into long discussions of shared experiences and hope for the future. I always felt blessed for those times of friendship.”
Belinda Brown said her father’s roadside spring on Coburn Hill epitomizes who he is, a generous, giving spirit: Carved on granite marking the spring is the verse, “To those who thirst, I give water without a price.”
Judith Brown is remembered with the same fondness as her husband. Their daughter, Gretchen Brown-Boudreau, said a poem by Methodist church founder John Wesley, sums up both her parents’ philosophies in life: “Do all the good you can, By all the means you can, In all the ways you can, In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as you ever can.
The passing of Reverend Arnold Marshall Brown has brought forth an outpouring of gratitude and love in celebratory memoriam of this unique person who serves as a beacon of light and inspiration.