William D "Billy" Brown died peacefully Tuesday afternoon at his home. Close by was, Eleanor, his loving wife of 58 years and his dedicated caregivers, Nicole Hoston and Willie Mae Standifer. His progressive illness had gradually restricted his life to a colorless world no bigger than his house. Before that, however, he had been, by all accounts, a free-wheeling force to be reckoned with.
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He had enjoyed a widely varied (some might say exhausting) array of pursuits, some of which were successful and others, not so much. Notable endeavors ranged from banking, as Chairman of Louisiana Bank, to oil and gas as co-founder of Gas Transportation Corporation and Tensas Delta Exploration, to several real estate developments and farming interests. This is not to mention his myriad law partnerships about which he remarked that he had practiced with half the local bar. During his law practice he served as President of the Junior Bar, President of the Fourth District Bar Association, and Board of Governors of the Louisiana State Bar Association. Yet, somehow, in the middle of his law practice(s), he made forays into gold mining, latex importation, radio broadcasting, and others too speculative to mention. He was willing to admit that though he had been down three or four times he was quick to say that he had gotten up at least five or six.
Most would agree that his most jealous mistress was his life in Louisiana politics. He entered the Louisiana Senate as a freshman in 1968, serving under McKeithen's last term. He could often recall the luminaries with whom he served, like Adrian Duplantier, Mike O'Keefe, Bennett Johnston, K. D. Kilpatrick, "Coozan" Dudley LeBlanc, Jim Jummonville, B. B. "Sixty" Rayburn, Shady Wall and Sammy Nunez. The highlight of his next term was as Edwin Edwards' floor leader, where one of his accomplishments was his role in the initial draft of the Louisiana Mineral Code. Edwards made a lasting impression and Billy remained a loyal, ardent supporter, willing to do anything (legally) to better Edwin's predicament. There was even a point at which he considered running for governor, but this notion died a quick death at the hands of his family. Billy's last political post was as chairman of the Louisiana Board of Ethics from 1980-1988.
He moved to Monroe in 1957 and resided first in the Garnier Apartments. Across the hall were Joan and Fred King, who would become his long time neighbors and friends when he moved again. Soon, he embarked upon his practice of law at Theus, Grisham, Davis, Leigh and Brown, under the tutelage of Thomas Leigh. It was at this point he began his friendship with Ronald Lee Davis, Ralph Wicker, and Bob Curry. At the same time his dedication to the community grew and he built an impressive resume of civic service. He was president of the Monroe Rotary, Outstanding Man of the Year in 1966, a member of various Masonic Lodges, board member of the YMCA, Vestryman of Grace Episcopal Church (1960-1968), Board member of St. Francis Medical Center, board member of United Way, board member of the Louisiana Forestry Association, charter member of the Louisiana Civil Law Institute, member of the Monroe Recreation board, Monroe Chamber of Commerce and so on. A lesser man may say this was just resume fluff, but it was far more likely the product of unrestrainable energy and a mind in hyper drive.
His move to Monroe was preceded by two years at Fort Benning, Georgia. He entered the service via the ROTC and received his commission as an infantry lieutenant. Nonetheless, he was quickly assigned to the Judge Advocates office where he set about improving his cribbage game. Otherwise, he was starting his life as a bright, respected and admired attorney. His commanding officer, Robert Harris, once remarked that back in that day, the defendant was usually considered guilty at the outset and so he never allowed Billy to try any cases as defense counsel, expecting that Billy would "embark on a campaign to get them back on the street".
The military came immediately on the heels of his graduation from LSU Law School with a BS in Commerce and an LLB, cum laude. He graduated first in his law school class of 1955 and was president of the same. He was President of Kappa Alpha Order, a member of ODK, Phi Kappa Phi, Order of the Coif and member of the Board of Editors of the Louisiana Law Review. In fact, he always considered himself a lawyer first and foremost, making his early living before the days of advertising and specialization. He had no qualms about representing an insurance company one day and a personal injury victim on another. He was perfectly capable of drafting a deed, organizing a corporation, writing a will, or handling a month long trial, unassisted. He would eventually rise to represent the State of Louisiana before the United States Supreme Court in defense of the First Use Tax. Nor did he neglect the criminal element, and remembered once going to meet with a client jailed for murder at Angola, after which he was paid with hundred dollar bills which had been hidden within a cigarette. With Billy, the law practice was a way for a young father to earn a living, but moreover, he considered it a purely intellectual pursuit, blending the best of a person's reason and imagination. It was, in the words of his professor, J. Denson Smith, "a place to let the wings of your mind unfurl".
At 17 Billy left his home north of Lake Providence to attend a post graduate year at Kentucky Military Institute (1845-1971) in Lyndon, Kentucky, which counted among other alumni, Victor Mature (Samson and Doc Holliday) and Jim Backus (Thurston Howell III and the voice of Mr. Magoo). He recalled, not so fondly, the day he left Panola Plantation. Apparently, his parents had arranged for the train to stop in front of the farm, whereupon they tossed his duffel aboard and away he went for a daunting trip, for the first time by himself.
Theretofore, his life, like many kids of the 40's, reads like a chapter from Huck Finn. He had been born in the nearest hospital in Vicksburg on November 20, 1931, and came home to his family's farm with his parents Denis and Martha. To hear him tell it they lived most days free ranging and unfettered in an age that existed before Nintendo and Tiger Moms. Most time was spent with his brothers, sister, and cousins, riding their horses, learning to fly (the old fashioned way), shooting marbles, playing mumbleypeg, and baseball, hunting, fishing, and just playing. The farm, then, was worked by tenant families and during World War II, German POW's, not to mention scores of mules. Conspicuously absent from his recollection were the long hard working hours during planting and harvest working conditions that today would invoke the wrath of a dozen federal agencies. Participants recollect that Billy's hand may not have been destined for the plow. And some remember Billy hiring a friend, Mel Brooks, to hoe his cotton row while Billy waited in the shade on the turn row. He would finish high school, as football center of the Lake Providence Panthers and give the valedictory address of 1948 on "Democracy in the Atomic Age". All combined, it is not a bad way to be have been raised and represented a lifestyle he would forever seek to replace.
Though raised a Catholic, he and his wife, by mutual consent, joined Grace Episcopal Church upon moving to Monroe. This doctrinal shift aside, he continued to hold fast to most of the tenants of Catholicism, and, of course, fish on Fridays. Father Brad Tremble was his priest and friend throughout his life. Billy and, another true friend, Paul Tennis, consistently maintained their Sunday morning ritual of Holy Communion early service at Grace. Until the end, Billy was able to recite the Nicene and Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer and a mixed bag of Catholic Catechism. The funeral services will be at Grace Episcopal, the church to which he was devoted, on Friday morning at 10:30, proceeded by a reception at Kilbourne Hall beginning at 9:00 a.m. Billy will be interred in a private ceremony at Cuba Farm the place he loved dearest near his beloved dogs.
Coming from a small railroad crossing along Highway 65 North he cut a wide swath through whatever he laid his hands on. Billy will be remembered as fair-minded and determined; impulsive, loving, and loyal to a fault. He would never be perfect, but perfect enough for those who loved him.
William Denis Brown III is survived by his wife Eleanor, Denis and Kathryn Brown and their children Harriett and Wyly of Salt Lake City, Utah; David and Priscilla O'Quinn and their children, Eleanor and Maisie, of New Orleans; Harris and Kristin Brown of Monroe. Though predeceased by his sister Martha, his younger brothers, Grady (Bubber) and Phillip continued to prosper and husband their family's farm for the fifth generation.
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to Grace Episcopal Church, the Humane Society Adoption Center of Monroe or the Alzheimer's Association.
Online condolences may be sent to the family at www.kilpatrickfuneralhomes.com
Published in The News Star on Mar. 9, 2012