Pioneering Politician George L. Brown, 79

By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 7, 2006

George L. Brown, 79, a Colorado Democrat who had an embattled tenure as the nation's first African American lieutenant governor of the 20th century, died March 31 of cancer at his home in Boca Raton, Fla.

In 1974, while in his fifth term as a Colorado state senator, Mr. Brown was elected lieutenant governor as the running mate of gubernatorial candidate Richard D. Lamm. He became the first black person in that office since Reconstruction by a technicality: He was sworn into office one hour before Mervyn Dymally, who was elected lieutenant governor of California the same year.

Mr. Brown's tenure was marred by controversy and odd behavior. At a national lieutenant governors conference in 1975, he said he had been in an airplane crash during his military training 32 years earlier and had been bound in chains and branded on his chest with the letter "K" for Ku Klux Klan. It turned out to have been a brand from his college fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi.

Dymally, who was attending the same conference, immediately confronted Mr. Brown, saying he had been a member of the same fraternity and also had a "K" branded on his chest. Days later, Mr. Brown said the incident had happened to someone else.

In 1978, when Lamm was out of the state on vacation, Mr. Brown pardoned a friend who had been convicted of murder. The governor revoked the pardon when he returned. Later, after Mr. Brown had overspent the budget for his office, Lamm held back some of his salary and dropped him from his ticket in 1978. When Lamm was reelected, Mr. Brown's supporters picketed the inauguration.

In 1980, Mr. Brown sued Lamm for $500,000 for withholding his pay. The case was settled when the state government issued Mr. Brown a check for more than $10,000. Describing the office of lieutenant governor as "a very frustrating position in a number of ways," Mr. Brown never ran for public office again.

George Leslie Brown was born in Lawrence, Kan., and was a star high school athlete in football, basketball and track. He served in the Tuskegee Airmen, a black unit of the Army Air Forces, during World War II.

After graduation from the University of Kansas, he joined the Denver Post as a reporter and later became one of the first black editors in the region. His career in journalism and politics was influenced by his coverage of the civil rights movement in the 1960s. In the early 1970s, he was director of the Denver Housing Authority and was credited with improving social conditions for minorities in his city.

Mr. Brown was appointed to the Colorado Senate in 1955 and was reelected four times, all the while continuing to work at the newspaper and as a radio talk show host.

In 1979, after his political career had derailed, he joined Grumman Corp., the aircraft and defense giant, as vice president for marketing in New York. He moved to Washington in 1985 and served as Grumman's chief lobbyist until 1990.

Since then, he held a variety of managerial and consulting positions, which included managing the Washington office of Prudential Securities Inc. and working for the Vienna office of L. Robert Kimball and Associates, a national architectural and engineering firm. He moved from Crystal City to Florida in the late 1990s.

He remained active in civil rights throughout his life and in the late 1990s was named one of the 100 most-influential black Americans by Ebony magazine. Three weeks before his death, Mr. Brown was one of three co-chairmen of the National Black People's Unity Convention in Gary, Ind.

His marriages to Carolyn Rupp Brown and Rosemary Marshall, a Colorado representative, ended in divorce.

Survivors include his wife of 27 years, Modeen Brown of Boca Raton, Fla.; a daughter from his first marriage, Gail Chandler of Ontario, Calif.; three daughters from his second marriage, Cindy Brown of Denver, Kim Brown of Port St. Lucie, Fla., and Laura Mitchell of Milwaukee; five stepchildren, Angela Ashley and Sharolyn Williams, both of Port Charlotte, Fla., Carolyn Smith of Bradenton, Fla., Nyra Crenshaw of Los Angeles and Ronald Crenshaw of Bakersfield, Calif.; seven grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

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