In rare moments over the course of a lifetime, we cross paths on our journey with incredibly unique individuals. There are those who are blessed with a wonderful dose of grace, kindness, charm, humility. I was fortunate enough to have known one special lady who encompassed all of this and more.
I was a young, single woman when I accepted the job offer of executive director of the Mansfield, Ohio YWCA. I was too young and way too naive to realize I was stepping in to a hornet’s nest in many ways.
The YWCA board had recently voted to vacate the huge building which had been shared with the YMCA for many years, moving down the street to a flat-roofed, small brick building that was not only non-descript, but offered nothing in the way of anything even resembling fun, workable space.
The huge swimming pools, the gymnasiums, the large meeting rooms had all been turned over to the YMCA board in an act of finality in asserting themselves by our 36-member board. It was sort of like cutting off the nose to spite the face. Except I didn’t know any of this until I had accepted the position.
I went to work each morning wondering what in the world I was to do. I found myself taking direction from 36 very different individual board members. Consequently, I was stymied at every turn by 36 bosses. Ideas which I drew up, time after time, were accepted with great enthusiasm by one board member and then shot down by a couple more. And yet, I was criticized for not doing enough.
There was one woman on the board who I came to not only respect, but adore. Her name was Emily Brown. Emily Brown had grown up in the small town of Mansfield, Ga., and came to this area as the young bride of a doctor. She was the mother of three sons, one of whom is now U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown.
I would turn to Emily with my questions and my concerns. She was the only board member who listened to me when I said I felt the only hope for the future of the YWCA was to return to the building they once shared with the YMCA.
The other board members, taking a stubborn stance against “giving in” to their initial stand-off, fought this notion for months on end. And yet, they were quick to question why I was not starting new programs and growing the organization.
Where was I to hold these new programs? There was no money to rent a dance hall, and there was quite obviously no room in the tiny building we were renting to do anything at all. In the end, we did move back in to the large building, and self-help programs for young women began and flourished.
It never would have happened without the amazing and mannerly Emily Brown. Quite often, while meeting with a core group of women, one of them would say, “What do you think Emily wants to do?” She had quietly earned the respect of every last one of us, and we looked to her for practical guidance.
I had never met a woman who could promote intelligent thought like she could. She once told me in her sweet southern way of speaking that her husband was a stubborn man, steadfastly set in his ways. “So, I talk to him. I ask a few questions and plant a few seeds of ideas. Before long, he comes around and believes it was his idea in the first place!”
Having grown up in the south, I had half expected Emily to be stubborn in her own ways. Instead, she was the most open-minded and respectful woman I had ever met. She detested even the slightest tinge of racism or elitist thinking, and truly believed every human being was equal in the eyes of God.
Emily Brown passed away Feb. 2 at the age of 88. Each of her sons eulogized her in a ceremony attended by many dignitaries. That level of loving respect was most definitely deserving of this woman who walked with such grace and lived her days with an enormously giving heart.
Lucky to have known her
I count myself lucky to be able to say I am among those blessed to have known her.