Helen Brown, 5 words: kind, compassionate, humble, generous, humorous. If you were lucky enough to know Helen, you’ll have your own words to add to these. Helen took her leave of this earth last Wednesday afternoon, after several years of physical challenges that left her body struggling and her mind intact. Her community bids her a formal farewell at a service at St Andrews Presbyterian Church this afternoon.
Helen was 90. In fact, at her remarkable birthday in December, she was feted by scores of people influenced by her quiet ways. She visited with people she went to “Normal School” (teachers college) with in the early 50’s. She visited with friends from her many religious endeavours; friends from the very vibrant Gryphon Theatre Guild; friends who just loved her; cousins, inlaws, and community. It was to be her final hurrah, here on earth.
Perhaps it was the humility of her dairy farm beginnings a few miles south of Schomberg in 1923 that gave Helen the grace with which she lived her life. Farming work anchors its participants in the ebb and flow of life, to our place in the nature of things. Helen had a strong sense of where she belonged. The middle of five children, she grew up in an involved family; her father served as Reeve of King Township.
Daughter Jane, her steadfast companion since husband Arch died four years ago, says her mother had her priorities nailed down solidly: first, her God; second, her husband; third, Jane and all the other pupils, children of friends, family in her life.
Helen’s first teaching assignment was a grade 2 class at Charles G Fraser Elementary School, a Toronto inner city school. There were children of every possible economic and ethnic background and Helen, being blind to colour and economy, quickly made a difference in the lives of her little charges. She had that gift, that ability to find something positive in every single person.
“You can complain about the sin,” she says often, “but love the sinner.”
After she and young Archibald Brown married in 1953, they moved to Nassau, Bahamas where Arch was with Trans Canada Airlines. Custom dictated that Helen have a maid. Her maid, Clotilda, became a fast friend and frequently visited Helen later in life, especially on return trips. Helen made life difficult for Clotilda, who tried to maintain a respectful distance behind her employer while Helen worked equally hard to walk beside her, as a friend, wherever they went!
Jane was the only Brown baby to be born to Arch and Helen and she credits her mom with raising her to understand she was not the centre of the universe. “I knew I was loved,” says Jane, “but every kid was special and mom taught me to look outside myself.”,
During Helen’s five decades in Barrie, she had several circles of influence: her closest, intimate friends; her religious community; her Gryphon Theatre Guild associates; her Canadian Tire dealership wives.
Today, mourning their great loss are her closest friends, Donna Brennan, Pauline Warnica, Nighan Jackson, Mary McConney.
Helen’s religious community spread far beyond her church, St Andrews Presbyterian. She was active in prayer breakfasts, Bible study, Women Alive!, Christian Womens Club and often sat on inter-denominational committees for community events.
She was the quiet force behind her more public husband as he built the largest Canadian Tire dealership north of Toronto. In this capacity she put together meals at the drop of a hat, opened her home to dealer wives, giving new meaning to gracious welcome. She was humble. She found good everywhere.
Perhaps the story told by Michelle Tousignant best describes Helen Brown. Base Borden Commander Guy Tousignant and his wife and 12 year old daughter Michelle were coming to the Browns’ house for dinner. Helen thought not about the Base Commander or his wife, but about the young daughter who was no doubt in for a boring evening. She called and suggested she bring a friend with her so the evening would be a little more lively. Few hostesses would stop to think of the child in the bustle of hosting a high military rank. But Helen did.
As Helen is sent away from her earthly journey today, there is no doubt she is headed for greater things. She fully expected that. She had a smile on her face. She left in a state of peace. She left us with a state of grace.