Norfolk —Robert Eugene Brown 79, died on May 20, 2017, at his home, in the care of family, friends, and home hospice. The cause was idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.
Bob Brown was a principled, analytic, and deeply loving man who had a passion for the law, his chosen profession, which he practiced with skill and integrity in Norfolk for over 50 years. He was an energetic and active citizen who believed in and worked to improve social justice and fairness in society. He was a lover and supporter of the arts, particularly the theater. Bob was the founding president of the Virginia Stage Company at the Wells Theater in Norfolk.
Bob loved to travel, first crossing the Atlantic on a tramp steamer and hitchhiking from Denmark to Madrid at age 20, followed by trips made over the years to Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Central and South America with his beloved wife, Roslyn, as well as with family and friends.
Bob was a family man. He adored his wife Roslyn and tenderly cared for her in her final illness until she died on May 24, 2015, their 34th wedding anniversary. More than anything, he loved his daughter Emily and Roslyn’s sons, David and Adam and their families, and was grateful for their joyous family gatherings over the years, and their loving support during his recent illness.
Bob was born on May 6, 1938, the fourth and youngest child of Ivey and Lillie Brown. When Bob was three, the family moved to Norfolk as his father responded to a call for workers to support the war effort, and Bob spent a happy childhood on Craney Island and in Churchland, Portsmouth. During his years at Churchland High School, Bob discovered interests that would persist throughout his life. His natural curiosity, intelligence, and zest for learning were supported by his teachers, who taught him to write and speak well, and encouraged him to go to college. During that time, Bob also became active in scouting, instilling in him the value of “cheerful service,” which became one of his lifelong principles of living.
The first of his family to attend college, Bob was accepted to the University of Virginia as a Dupont Scholar and spent four years pursuing a variety of academic and extracurricular interests. He described the Honors Program as a great incubator for honing writing, critical thinking, and analysis skills. While at UVa, Bob was elected to the Student Council, served on the editorial advisory board of the Cavalier Daily, was president of the University of Virginia Magazine, served as an officer of the Jefferson Literary Society, was tapped into honorary forensic and journalism societies, and was active throughout in the Navy ROTC. He credited his three years as a member and officer of the intercollegiate UVa debating team with his later decision to become a lawyer. In June 1960, Bob graduated from the University with a Bachelor of Arts with Honors and a major in Economics.
After graduation, Bob served for two years in the United States Navy. Assigned the first year to the Naval Air Station, Kodiak, Alaska, Bob was delighted to find himself in charge of public information and education for the base, and one of his responsibilities was publishing the base newspaper. In his second year in the Navy in 1961–62, Bob served as Special Projects and Information Officer of the Joint United Nations Command/U.S. Forces Korea.
Bob returned to Charlottesville to attend UVa School of Law after completing his military service. He worked on the Virginia Law Review and the Virginia Legal Research Group. Graduating from University of Virginia Law School in June 1965, Bob returned to Norfolk to take up the practice of law with the firm of Kanter, Kanter and Sachs. While practicing law, Bob volunteered in politics, and when local lawyer Henry Howell decided to run for governor of Virginia, he asked Bob to be his statewide campaign manager. Howell did not win, but he hired Bob to join his law firm. Bob became a partner a few years later in the Howell, Daugherty, Brown and Lawrence firm. Bob’s illustrious career as a trial lawyer for plaintiffs combined his extraordinary analytic skills with his sense of social justice. No matter the scope of the case, Bob worked tirelessly for the benefit of his clients.
Bob’s commitment to law was equaled by his active civic engagement in the arts. He founded and published Sight and Sound, a lively monthly arts magazine. In 1974, Bob joined the Norfolk Theater Center and, as its visionary president, steered its transformation from an impoverished, semi-professional community theater group into a nationally recognized professional theater company, the Virginia Stage Company, with its own permanent home, the elegantly renovated Wells Theater, which opened in 1979. Between 1978 and 2011, Bob served as founding president board member, Advisory Council member, and Wells Restoration Capital Campaign co-chair. Upon his retirement from the board, then Mayor Paul Fraim issued a Proclamation recognizing Bob’s 32 years of service to the theater and the community.
Bob’s personal life was enriched by the people he loved, and he enriched theirs beyond measure. He wed Susan Byrd Greenbacker in 1969, and they had a daughter, Emily. Although Bob and Susan divorced, they remained lifelong friends. Bob was remarried in 1981 to Roslyn Gladstone Herman. They shared a keen intellect and love of music, the arts, civic engagement, travel, dance, and the law. Bob and Roslyn were gracious hosts, opening their home for community and cultural gatherings throughout their 34 years of marriage.
Bob is survived by his daughter, Emily Brown Phillips of Brooklyn, N.Y., and her husband Seth; his sons Dr. David L. Herman of Albany, N.Y., and his wife Jennifer Rosenbaum; his son Adam Herman of Nags Head, N.C., and his wife Jodie; his five grandchildren (Claire Phillips, Jackson Phillips, Owen Phillips, Zachary Herman, and Eric Herman); his brother George M. Brown of Virginia Beach; his brother Bill Brown of Culpeper and his wife Faye, and numerous nieces, nephews, and cousins. He was pre-deceased by his wife Roslyn Gladstone Brown and his sister Margaret Brown McCombs.
A memorial service was held at the Wells Theater.
Memorial donations to the Virginia Stage Company, PO Box 3770, Norfolk, VA 23514 (http://www.vastage.org); or to the Food Bank of Southeastern Virginia and the Eastern Shore, P.O. Box 518, Onley, VA 23418. Online condolences at www.hdoliver.com.