Jim Brown would like to clear the air.
“I have loved Longboat Key more than any other town,” says Brown, a longtime resident, newspaper columnist and former town commissioner and mayor. “You couldn’t pull me out of it if it weren’t for the fact that I can’t stay.”
Brown has terminal lung cancer and is in Hospice. On Friday, he is moving in with his daughter, Sue Rico, who lives in Sonoma Valley, Calif. But he got the chance to say good-bye to everyone dear to him Wednesday, at St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church’s 9 a.m. Mass in honor of Brown and all he has accomplished in his 35 years on the Key.
When asked how he would like to be remembered on Longboat Key, he said, “If they just remembered me, that would be great.”
Those close to Brown say it will be hard to forget him.
Brown will be remembered as a journalist and voice of Longboat. He originally studied accounting but wanted to try his hand at journalism for three months. Three months turned into 64 years while he roamed the country as a journalist. He started in Jackson, Mich., where he met his wife, Marge.
“Two weeks after we met, I asked her to marry me and she said, ‘It’s about time!’” Brown says. They were together for 62 years before she died last April.
The Browns had three children, Charlie, Jim and Sue, and lived in Milwaukee, Omaha, Neb., and Dallas until they finally settled in 1976 on Longboat.
Brown has been a columnist for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune for the past 12 years. An editor there recruited him after she read a newsletter he used to publish for Longboat Key.
“He is a true reporter,” says Woody Wolverton, who served on the Town Commission from 1991 to 1993 with Brown. “That was what he was put on Earth to do.”
Wolverton points to Brown’s abilities to communicate and listen as qualities that make him a great journalist and also political figure.
“I think I reflected public opinion very well,” Brown says. “I still do right now, though no one on the commission agrees with me.”
His advice for the current commission: “They need a better feel for the whole community. They need to recognize that Longboat Key is a seasonal market.”
He will also be remembered by many of the physical reminders of the projects he championed, such as the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center and Longboat Key’s beach. Beach renourishment is the project of which he is most proud.
In 1992, Gulf of Mexico Drive was completely washed out near Bayport Beach and Tennis Club due to a storm. Brown recruited a committee to develop the beach, without which there would only be water surrounding the road.
Town Attorney David Persson remembers walking along the beach, or lack there of, with Brown and members of the advisory committee.
Said Persson: “The beach was a mess, there was all of this derelict growth, and he looked at it and said, ‘There will be this and that.’ He had a vision, and it was really neat to be in the presence of that.”
“A lot of things people really love about Longboat were established during his time,” says former Town Manager Bruce St. Denis says.
Brown served four consecutive years as mayor, one year as town commissioner and served as chairman for many positions.
“I worked for a lot of things, and I got a lot done,” Brown says.
But Brown won’t take credit for anything his friends and people who worked closely with him attribute to him.
“I’ve always lived by the motto: ‘You can’t do anything by yourself. You don’t get anywhere … ’” he says. “You have to have ideas, keep trying and enjoy them. And you have to get people behind those ideas.”
For 62 years, his wife, Marge, was the No. 1 person backing his ideas, as he backed hers. Rico says their relationship is her strongest memory of her parents.
“The last six years of my mom’s life, he took care of her,” she says. “His devotion to my mother is just unbelievable.”
It’s nearly impossible to mention one without the other, says Vince DeLisi, a friend of the Browns.
They were a power couple in Longboat’s community.
“Much of what they did, they did as partners,” says Mary Elizabeth Carey, St. Mary, Star of the Sea parishioner.
Longboat Observer Senior Editor Dora Walters said it was Marge Brown who sparked the idea of reviving the St. Jude Gourmet Luncheon after reading an Observer article on how the luncheon would be canceled because they couldn’t find a chairman.
“St. Jude’s was faltering for a while, and he took it over and got it going,” Walters said. “He saved it and did a great job in getting it reactivated.”
Brown was luncheon chairman for three years and served on the executive committee until it was turned over to Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key.
The couple put together the Jesse/Christmas Tree Drive at St. Mary for 10 years. He and his wife would find out what the migrant children needed and would get church members to donate those items.
“All of the things he was asked to take care of, he made better from his participation,” says the Rev. Edward Pick, founding pastor of St. Mary, Star of the Sea. “He was definitely a contributor and not a taker.”
Brown was also president of St. Mary Men’s Club for two terms and chairman of the lector committee for
Aside from the political and leadership positions he filled in his time on Longboat, the role his family and friends will remember most is peacemaker.
“He could always find a middle way to resolve issues and get the mission accomplished,” says Persson. “I can remember 100 times he had warring factions on the commission, and he would bring them together and have them agree on some common ground.”
His daughter also emphasizes his ability of getting people to communicate without disagreement, from riots in the ’60s, to riotous commissioners — he settled arguments.
Carey highlighted his ability to resolve conflicts.
“He was able to bring constructive action out of a big time of separation between development and residential communities,” she said. “He brought peace to a bitterly divided town.”
Many of his friends and people who have worked closely with him describe Brown with the same adjectives: passionate and involved, well-loved and respected, one of the best mayors of Longboat, a historian, a listener, a beautiful person and a friend you can trust and speak to without reservation.
“I have had a good life for 90 good years, and I can’t ask for much more than that,” Brown says.
He is proud of what he has accomplished in his time here, and he is especially proud of the three children he has raised.
And he isn’t afraid of what he faces next. He knows that his wife will once again be by his side.
“I know she’s up there waiting for me,” he says with a smile.
• 1921 — Jim Brown was born Aug. 18 in Monroe, La.
• 1947 — He married his wife, Marge, in Jackson, Mich.
• 1949 — His son, Jim Jr., was born
• 1950 — His daughter, Victoria Sue, was born
• 1960s — The Browns first visited Longboat Key
• 1962 — His son, Charlie, was born
• 1976 — The Browns moved to Longboat Key
• 1983-85 — Brown served as chairman of the Sarasota County Democratic Party
• 1989-90 — Brown served as a town commissioner on Longboat Key
• 1990-94 — Brown served as mayor of Longboat Key
• 1992 — Brown was named Kiwanis Club of Longboat Key “Citizen of the Year”
• 2000 — Brown became an editorial writer for the Sarasota Herald-Tribune
By the numbers
5 — Number of years Brown served as chairman for the Sarasota County Democratic Party
3 — Number of years Brown chaired the St. Jude Gourmet Luncheon
30 — Number of years Brown served as chairman of the lector committee at St. Mary
10,000 — Number of hands of bridge Brown played in 15 years