John W. Brown, Jr.
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Virginia Beach - After a long life of service, John "Johnny" Warren Brown Jr., 94, crossed the finish line on March 2, 2014. As usual, he won the race with his trademark humor, a warm smile, impeccable manners and graceful dignity.
Born in Norfolk and a 1937 graduate of Maury High, he was the son of the late John W. and Virginia Cofer Brown and a longtime member of Bayside Presbyterian Church. He grew up in Colonial Place, Newton Park and Ocean View. From 1948-1981, he served as a teacher, coach and eventually principal of Granby High School.
Known as "Norfolk's Jim Thorpe," Johnny was a fixture in the athletic community for more than 8 decades. Before serving under Gen. Patton in World War II, he starred in football, baseball and track at the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary (now ODU).
Johnny held the Virginia AAU broad jump record (22'11") in 1940 and once scored 6 first-place finishes in a single track meet-pole vault, high hurdles, low hurdles, broad jump, high jump and dash. He won the AAU pole vaulting title before the war. After the war, Johnny took the title again with a borrowed pole and a single vault.
At the beginning of the war, he led the Fort Riley Kansas football team to the Sunflower Bowl championship as its high-scoring tailback. After graduating from OCS, he was assigned to the 16th Cavalry. In 1943, he joined the 2nd Rangers Battalion as an instructor in night fighting, scouting and patrolling.
Johnny returned to the 16th as commander of Troop E, an assault gun unit. He served overseas with the unit in the Rhineland and Central European campaigns. From 1949 until 1979, he commanded reserve units including the 315th Field Artillery Battalion, 320th Regiment and the 80th Division.
Johnny later played football and ran track at the College of William and Mary. After college, he played professional football with the Norfolk Shamrocks. Throughout the 50s, he was a perennial all-star and batting champion in the Norfolk City League. Newspaper articles report him once hitting a baseball out of Lafayette Park and over Granby Street. In 1988, Johnny coached the United States Navy track and field team.
His plaque in the ODU Sports Hall of Fame calls him, "one of the greatest natural athletes in the South in the early 1940s." During Johnny's induction into the Granby Hall of Fame, the late Donald Griffin said, "He wasn't the best there ever was, but he's the best I ever saw."
Johnny's track teams (1949-1962) at Granby once won 44 straight dual meets and his trackmen garner 12 Norfolk Sports Club Outstanding Track and Field Performers Awards. In 2012, the club renamed the award in Johnny's honor. In 2013, the Norfolk Sports Club presented him with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
While many of his contemporaries were leaning on their canes, Johnny started leaning on his fountain pen in 2008 and authored books on his friend and wrestling legend Billy Martin, ODU football and Gen. Patton's push to the Rhine. All the proceeds were donated to Granby High, ODU athletics and the Wounded Warriors.
In addition to his writing, he was also an accomplished artist. He often gifted paintings and prints to his friends. Despite his many accomplishments, the center of his life was always other people and what he could do to help them.
Left to cherish his memory are his son Alan Brown and Donna Hurley, his daughter Adrienne J. Harrington, his step-son Stephen Harrington and Nancy Porter and Johnny's special lady friend Mary Tatterson. He was predeceased by his wife Betty Harrington Brown.
A visitation and viewing will be held on Thursday from 6:00 8:00 PM at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Home 1457 Independence Blvd. Virginia Beach VA and a celebration of his life will be held Saturday at11:00 AM at Bayside Presbyterian Church 1400 Ewell Rd. Virginia Beach VA. In lieu of flowers donations may be made to the wounded Warriors Project PO Box 758517 Topeka, Kansas 66675. Condolences may be offered to the family at:
Hollomon-Brown Funeral Homes - Bayside Chapel
1457 Independence Blvd Virginia Beach, VA 23455
Published in The Virginian Pilot on Mar. 5, 2014