Norman Brown

Norman Louis Brown (1923~2015) was born and raised in Atlantic City, NJ, and lived in Washington DC from 1957 on. He attended M.I.T. for two years before volunteering for the Army in 1943. He was stationed at Los Alamos, NM, where his job was to purify plutonium for the Nagasaki bomb. After the war, he returned to M.I.T., and then earned a PhD from Brown University.

Norman’s experience in the Army shaped so many of his later choices in life. He was proud at the time of his contribution to ending the war, but when he realized and understood the devastating death and destruction caused by the bombs, he became a peace activist. With his wife Janet Welsh Brown he participated in the March on Washington in 1963. They took their three children to protests against nuclear weapons and the War on Vietnam, from the earliest demonstrations organized by Women Strike for Peace. He continued to protest wars and injustice throughout his life.

Norman worked at G.E. in NY, then at the National Bureau of Standards in Washington, DC, but with his marriage in 1957 and the birth of his first child, he shifted his career path, and in all of his subsequent jobs he applied his scientific training to the solution of human problems, at first addressing hunger, and later in the development and application of small scale and renewable energy technologies in developing countries. He worked at the Bureau of Commercial Fisheries, the National Academy of Sciences, the Department of Energy, and the Agency for International Development.

After retirement from the government, he worked as a consultant for AID, the World Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization, and other international organizations. His work took him to Sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa, the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, and Latin America. Norman served on the founding board of the Shakespeare Festival, a free, professional-quality theater that held performances at the amphitheater on the Washington Monument grounds during the 1960s and ’70s, and he designed, built and ran the theater’s sound system in its second season. He served also on the board of Neighbors, Inc, which supported the racial integration of Washington’s Shepherd Park neighborhood, where the family lived.

Norman was a self-taught cabinet maker, plumber, carpenter, electrician and musician. He taught himself to play the recorder, and played music with friends in what he called the Lower Iris Street Chamber Music Society. Norman served on the founding board of the Selma Levine School of Music. He built two beautiful walnut bureaus which are still in use 57 years later. With family and friends, he built a second home in the woods in Pennsylvania, guided by a carpenter neighbor with whom he later went into business as a sheep farmer. He built his first computer from a “Heath Kit” in the early 1980s, and encouraged his colleagues and friends to join the computer age. He encouraged his children to undertake ambitious science projects, including a garbage-fueled home methane generator. He was always willing to advise and help neighbors and friends with repairs and other projects.

Norman is survived by his wife of 58 years, Janet Welsh Brown, and three children and their families: Leah Brown of Washington, Mira Brown of Boston and Ian Brown of Seattle. He is survived also by an extended and loving family. Norman died peacefully at home, early on November 7, 2015.

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