MINIS COLUMN: Retired teacher, volunteer had open arms

Sarah Burgess Brown

PEARL's Desktop

When Maxine Smith's mother passed away, she looked for a female role model in her mother's generation to spend time with. She found such a person in Sarah Burgess Brown, a woman her mother had played bridge with.

In Brown, Smith found someone who always would welcome her. Smith and others who knew Brown say she did many things well, but being welcoming was one of those she did best.

"She and her husband were really good in embracing new professional couples," Smith says. They wanted to ensure that those moving here would become vital parts of the Charleston community, and know those here who had similar interests or had come from the same places.

Brown, who was born May 15, 1924, died Nov. 17. She was the widow of the late Dr. James E. Brown.

Those who were drawn to Brown, whether in teaching, community service or some other way, found she always was kind and giving, says Smith.

Brown's friend for more than half a century, Bettye S. Purvis, says she was a person who would surprise you by cooking your favorite dish and sending it to you. Or she might see a book she thought you'd enjoy and send that along. When it came to doing those things that showed someone was on her mind, she was a natural.

"She was very artistic," Purvis says. "She could sew and she was a great decorator. Many times she was in charge of the decorations for conventions and other events."

When asked what she misses about Brown, Purvis, who met her while honeymooning in Charleston many years ago, simply says: "I miss her company."

Smith says Brown was an inspiration to many who observed her, looking for the right thing to do in a situation.

"She was a lady. If she had a social engagement, she wanted to have her nails and her hair done. She never made a lot of fuss about it. She was not doing it to be flamboyant."

Brown taught fourth grade at Mary Ford, Murray Hill and Edmund C. Burns elementary schools. She retired from teaching in 1982 after 30 years.

And she volunteered because she thought she had something to give back to her community, Purvis says.

Brown gave her time and talents to the Carolina Youth Development Center, the MOJA Festival, American Diabetes Association, American Cancer Society, several medical auxiliary organizations and Emanuel AME Church.

"She was a dear person," says Barbara Kimball Massey, another longtime friend. "She was very friendly and kind and cared about everybody with whom she came in contact. She really loved people and liked being involved in the community."

Reach Wevonneda Minis at 937-5705 or