Harry Wesley Brown, Jr. |
September 16, 1915 - March 10, 2012
An extraordinarily generous, fun-loving, ukulele-guitar-banjo-organ-playing man, Harry W. Brown died on March 10, 2012, in his 96th year. He was born on September 16, 1915, on the 320 acre family farm in Dakota County, Nebraska. He had been born into a family whose ancestors had come to America in pursuit of religious freedom when the Spanish Inquisition overflowed into France, and those ancestors later fought for freedom from Britain under General Washington's leadership.
Like so many other farm kids of the early 20th century, Dad attended a one-room school house for his first 8 grades, and then attended South Sioux City High School, staying in town with his grandmother during the week, and going home to help on the farm on the weekends. It was during that period that he saw his first bi-plane practicing its acrobatic turns for a county fair over the family farm, and he was dazzled by the possibility of human flight.
Graduating from high school at the depth of the Great Depression, 1932, his family could not afford to send him to college. Yet through much sacrifice, they were able to get him to Wayne State Teacher's College the following year, and after a year and a half, Dad transferred to the University of Nebraska, thanks to FDR's National Youth Administration program.
Harry graduated from the University of Nebraska in 1938 as the recipient of the O. J. Fee Award given to the outstanding graduating Engineering student, and also won one of four very prestigious United Air Lines national awards for post-graduate study at the Boeing School of Aeronautics by writing about the possibility of passenger flight up to 15,000 feet!
That Boeing education led to a position at Vega Aircraft (a subsidiary of Lockheed Aircraft), and then to a teaching position at the University of Texas in Austin in 1940 in the ESMDT, "Engineering, Science and Management Defense Training" programs the U. S. government developed in response to the outbreak of WWII in Europe. Throughout the war, Dad taught women how to build aircraft, and his students also included the WASP women aviators.
While in Austin, Harry married his Nebraska college sweetheart, Tex-Rozelle Rounds, and their first daughter, Alanna Kathleen, was born on March 7, 1944. Three months later, the family would move to California, and another daughter, Terry Janel, was born on July 16, 1946. During the next three decades Tessa and Harry found a spiritual home and a rich community of musical friends in the Hollywood Presbyterian Church Cathedral Choir.
Tessa, who had earned a Master's in Music Education at Columbia University in 1940, was a professional piano accompanist as well as music and English teacher at Van Nuys Junior High and then at Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley. Harry had earned one of the first Master's in Aeronautical Engineering degrees in the country at the University of Texas in 1942.
In 1949, Harry did a risky thing by leaving Hughes Aircraft Company to join 27 other people in the newly formed Marquardt Corporation which wanted to develop the field of jet propulsion. First located in the Venice/Long Beach area, and then later in Van Nuys, Caifornia, and Ogden, Utah, the Marquardt Corporation would grow into 7,000 employees while developing the ram-jet engine, and later, the rocket engines that eventually landed men on the moon and got them safely back home.
I remember when the family was all together in 1969, watching the moon landing. Dad had a list of the exact times the jet engines were to be fired in order to land, to take-off, and for re-entry back into the earth's atmosphere. He shared his anxiety that the engineers had had to make some educated guesses about the moon's gravitational pull, and that if they were even slightly off, there was a chance that the capsule could hit too hard, or the moon's gravitational pull would be too great, and the astronauts would not be able to return. When the space capsule landed so gently, Dad whooped, did a spontaneous jig, and then the phone was off the hook as the men and women who had worked so hard on those small, vital jets celebrated a stunning achievement.
The two greatest losses in Dad's life were mother's passing of aplastic anemia when she was 59 in 1978, and my sister dying of leukemia 20 years later in 1998 at the age of 52. But father was able to remarry a widow in 1980, Marion Vree, also a musician and teacher at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, and they each had an additional 32 years of marriage to each other, traveling, sharing music and friends, that so enriched the last one-third of their lives. Marion passed one month after Dad's death.
Dad not only loved his daughters, he loved being a grandfather to Terry and John Hogley's daughters, Joy, Miriam, and Gwyneth. That love extended as a great-grandfather to Joy and Chris Johnson's two sons, Gareth and Trevor; Miriam Hogley and Tampa Mitchell's son Oseia; and Gwyneth and Jorge Cotes' sons, Milo and Dean, as well as his wife's, Marion Vree-Brown's son, Dale, Dale's wife, Elena, and their children. Dad would have been overjoyed to hold little Tessa Janel, named for her grandmother and great-grandmother, but Tessa was born 14 months after Dad's passing.
Also of note, Harry and Tessa were deeply proud of their eldest daughter's, Alanna's, achievements in receiving a doctorate from UCSB in English Literature in 1974, who then became one of the first women to achieve Full Professor status at Montana State University in 1994.
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Sept. 22, 2013