TAMPA - The Rev. Abe Brown, an iconic figure in Tampa for his decades as a teacher, pastor and civil rights leader, died today.
He was 83.
Perhaps best known for his work with the prison ministry bearing his name, Brown retired in 2007 as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of College Hill, where he had served since 1993.
The youngest of three children, Abraham Robert Brown was born in a small clapboard house on Harrison Alley in Tampa's Belmont Heights. He was just a toddler when his father left home; his mother cleaned to pay the bills.
Brown attended Middleton High School, winning a football scholarship to Florida A&M.
He returned to Tampa after college and began his career as a physical education teacher at Carver Junior High School. Over the years, he taught and coached at Middleton, Blake, Jefferson and Chamberlain high schools. His no-nonsense approach brought him the nickname "Mean Dean Brown."
Brown also gained a reputation for his quiet leadership in the civil rights arena. When violence followed the death of a drug suspect in police custody in 1989, Brown took to the streets of College Hill with then-Mayor Sandy Freedman to calm tensions.
In the mid-1970s, Brown learned one of his former players had been charged with murder. He began visiting prisons and his Abe Brown Ministries eventually would grow to provide outreach to inmates and assistance to ex-offenders and their families.
In lieu of flowers, Brown's family asks that contributions be made to: Abe Brown Ministries Inc., Live the Brown Legacy Memorial Fund, PO Box 11453, Tampa 33680.
Published in TBO.com on Sept. 11, 2010