William O. Brown

Brown—William O. Brown, 92, on January 10, 2014, in Milwaukee, Wis., unexpectedly, in his sleep. Bill was born on March 7, 1921, in New York City to Florence Staehle and Harry Brown. During his youth, he lived in Rockaway Beach, Long Island (Queens), with his maternal grandmother and his Aunt Gert, who early on nurtured his love of the arts with trips to plays and museums in the city. Already a pacifist, he enlisted in World War II only because he was allowed to serve in the medical corps, driving the wounded to hospitals in London from the European front. In 1950 he completed a master’s in psychology at University of Colorado Boulder, where on a Sunday morning walk in the hills near Boulder, he met his professor’s wife on her way to Quaker meeting. Finding what he had been looking for in the Spirit-led silence and freedom, he joined Boulder (Colo.) Meeting.

He became a clinical child psychologist, working with families in Madison, Wis., in 1954. He attended Madison Meeting and began a long relationship with Illinois Yearly Meeting (ILYM), including seven years as administrative coordinator. A move to Milwaukee, Wis., in the late ’50s allowed him to meet Sandra Topitzes, who was from a large Greek family. Their small Quaker wedding at Milwaukee Meeting in 1959 was followed by a big Greek Orthodox wedding the next day. He joined Milwaukee Meeting in 1966, coordinated the Turn Toward Peace movement in Milwaukee for four years, and served as a draft counselor and local peace activity organizer during the Vietnam War. He gave the 1978 Plummer Lecture, “Transcendence in the Pursuit of Wholeness,” now available on the IYLM website (ilym.org).

After retiring in 1979, he and Sandra sold their home and traveled extensively. In 1982–83, they served as resident directors at William Penn House in Washington, D.C. He served on the Chicago office Executive Committee of American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) and raised funds for the Milwaukee meetinghouse, dedicated in 1984. He led Quaker worship at the maximum security men’s prison in Waupun, Wis., twice a month for more than 20 years and was longtime coordinator of Milwaukee Meeting’s annual international gift shop fundraiser (now in its forty-fourth year) which remains one of the largest one-day fundraisers for ASFC (and which now also supports Friends Committee on National Legislation). A constant presence at worship, meeting workday, adult religious education session, and potluck for many years, he was a backbone of Quaker community, exemplifying an activist life grounded in worship. His postcards to newcomers and old Friends alike helped everyone feel close to him. His advice to anyone wondering how to become a good Quaker was “come to worship.” His ability to live in the Light with great joy, humor, and goodwill while remaining fully engaged in the world’s suffering is his legacy and example for Friends everywhere.

Though he did not have children of his own, he acted on his reverence and respect for children both in his meeting life and in his career. In 1986, a couple expecting their first child asked Sandra and him to become their child’s grandparents; they happily served in this role for “grandson” Chris Judkins-Fisher for over 25 years. Bill was survived by his beloved wife of 55 years, Sandra Topitzes Brown, who followed him in death on September 22, 2014.

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