Foundation Counsel Charles F. Brown, 92

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Charles Freeman Brown, 92, former general counsel of the National Science Foundation and a key player in scientific research and development during World War II at what later became the Department of Defense and in Europe during the start-up years of NATO, died of lung cancer March 21 at Washington Home hospice.

Mr. Brown, a Boston native, graduated from Harvard College in 1936 with a bachelor's degree in international law and foreign relations. After receiving a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1940, he joined the Boston firm of Sherburne, Powers & Needham in 1941.

During World War II, Mr. Brown's efforts to volunteer for military service were frustrated when he was classified 4-F. He found practicing law "inadequate with the world on fire" and went into government service "to make a more direct contribution to the war effort," according to the 25th reunion notes of his Harvard class.

He spent the next 30 years, except for two brief breaks when he was on loan from government service, involved in scientific research and development matters.

During the war, he worked on patents and the international exchange of scientific and technical issues caused by the creation of infrastructure necessary for the building of modern armaments. His first assignment was as staff attorney to the general counsel of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. He worked under Director Vannevar Bush on projects including the proximity fuse, antisubmarine warfare tactics and improvements of radar, and he created devices used by the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the Central Intelligence Agency.

At the war's end, he was named general counsel of the office and helped craft and submit to Congress the document creating the National Science Foundation in 1950. A year later, at his recommendation, the Office of Scientific Research and Development was closed.

Mr. Brown spent the next four years in Europe, assisting in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. By 1953, he had attained the position of deputy assistant secretary general for production and logistics for NATO.

Eager to return to the United States with his new wife, who was expecting their first child, Mr. Brown left the Defense Department on loan to the Navy. He was assigned to help a start-up project in Annapolis that hoped to develop a new craft called the hydrofoil.

When that endeavor failed, he became associate general counsel to the CIA for the next six years. He returned to his first love, research and development, on loan to the Scientific Engineering Institute of Waltham, Mass., as vice president and treasurer.

In 1966, he became deputy general counsel to the National Science Foundation, an independent government agency created by Congress to support scientific research, and in 1973 was elevated to general counsel. He retired in 1976 and received the foundation's Distinguished Service Award for outstanding service.

Mr. Brown was a lifelong sailor and skier.

His first wife, Caroline Tighe Wilkinson, died in 1951.

Survivors include his wife, Pamela Brown of Washington; two children from his second marriage, Penelope Brown of Washington and Nicholas Brown of North Bethesda; and two granddaughters.

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