Life Trustee Tom Watson Brown died Saturday, Jan. 13, after a brief illness. He was 73, Brown, an Atlanta attorney, historian and scholar, became the University’s fifth Life Trustee in December 2006. He and the Watson-Brown Foundation have made countless contributions to Mercer University.
He had served, since 1979, as the only Chairman of the Mercer University Press Board of Directors. At the Authors Luncheon in November 2006, which is sponsored by Mercer University Press, it was announced that Brown had generously donated $2 million to endow the Press. He also gifted his personal library collection of some 10,000 volumes to Mercer that will be housed in the Tarver Library. His library has an extensive focus on the Civil War and Southern history. At the Authors Luncheon, the University unveiled a new logo recognizing the many contributions of Brown and the Watson-Brown Foundation. The new logo will be printed in all future books published by Mercer University Press.
Brown served three terms on the Mercer University Board of Trustees.The family will receive friends from 4-6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 16, at Mayes-Ward Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta. Services will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 17, on the west lawn of Hickory Hill, the historic home of Brown's great-grandfather, former U.S. Sen. Thomas E. Watson, in Thomson.
The following is a story published in the Marietta Daily Journal on Sunday, Jan. 14, about Brown's life.
By Jon Gillooly
Marietta Daily Journal Staff Writer
MARIETTA - Renaissance man Tom Watson Brown, a wealthy philanthropist who never forgave Republicans for their role in the Civil War, died Saturday after a brief illness. He was 73.
"Tom Watson Brown was one of the greatest characters who ever lived," former Gov. Roy Barnes said. "He had an opinion on everything and never failed to express it."
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-east Cobb) recalled how Brown - "T.W.B." as he was known to friends - held court in his antebellum mansion on Cherokee Street near the Marietta Square with such personalities as syndicated columnist Bill Shipp and developer George Berry.
A Harvard-educated attorney, Brown liked to spend much of his time surrounded by books on his six-acre Ivy Grove estate, arguing politics with friends he invited in for late-afternoon "symposiums."
"Tom Watson Brown was a unique character," Isakson said.
Unimpressed with the passing fashions of the day, Brown described himself as an "18th-century gentleman" and "modern-day Luddite" who refused to have a personal computer in his home office, preferring instead his 10,000-volume library.
"He was probably the best read person I've ever met," Barnes said.
In a 2004 interview with the Marietta Daily Journal, Brown said his staff hand-delivered his e-mail messages daily from his law office in Vinings.
Shipp said Brown did not suffer fools.
"He was a man with a gruff exterior, but I bet he was the kindest, most generous man I've ever known," Shipp said. "His intellect was unmatched. He and I agreed on absolutely nothing politically, but I looked forward to our meetings almost every day."
Brown enjoyed the finer things in life and one of his greatest joys was eating a good steak at Bone's Restaurant in Buckhead, Shipp said.
"His was a great raconteur and bon vivant. He told a story like no one I've ever known," Shipp said.
Berry, a retired vice president of Cousins Properties, was another member of Brown's circle.
"All of us who knew him will be telling Tom Brown stories for as long as we live," Berry said. "I'll remember his wit, his intelligence, and I'll miss his friendship for the rest of my life."
Brown's family tree is interwoven with Georgia history. His great-grandfather was U.S. Sen. Tom Watson, who was nominated in 1896 for vice president on the Populist Party ticket with William Jennings Bryan. Brown's grandfather, J.J. Brown, served as Georgia's Commissioner of Agriculture.
Brown's father, Walter Brown, was a noted Washington broadcast journalist who later owned radio and television stations and established the Watson-Brown Foundation.
Born in Washington, D.C., Brown attended Saint Alban's School before he earned a history degree from Princeton, where he graduated magna cum laude. After serving briefly in the U.S. Army, Brown attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1959 and moving to Atlanta where he practiced law until his death.
Brown decided to sell Spartan Communications, the family-owned chain of 11 television stations in 2000, two years before he also sold his 6-percent ownership in the Atlanta Falcons.
His son, Tad Brown, 40, is president of the Watson-Brown Foundation, the largest private scholarship program in Georgia, which awards scholarships primarily to students in the Central Savannah River Area near Augusta. Students with Watson-Brown scholarships have attended universities from Stanford to Notre Dame.
Tad Brown described his father as a "Jeffersonian Democrat" and populist. The U.S. Populist Party, which formed in 1891, advocated the interests of labor and farmers.
"He was a son of the South," Tad Brown said.
While he was a respected attorney, his passion was for history, particularly the Civil War era and he is perhaps remembered best as a scholar of that period, his son said.
"He would not forgive the Republican party for what happened in 1861 or thereafter," Tad Brown said. "He wouldn't be a Republican to save his life."
Much of what he saw wrong with the country was an outgrowth of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
"One of the great tragedies of modern history was Gettysburg," Brown once told the Journal.
In fact, when a congressional candidate solicited him for money and mistakenly referred to him as "a fellow Republican," Brown responded:
"I am not now, nor have I ever been a member of the Republican Party. I have never forgiven them for what they did from 1861 to 1865."
When the puzzled candidate asked, "What happened in 1861?" Brown gave him a stern lecture, Shipp said.
In addition to scholarships, the Watson-Brown Foundation has donated $3 million to the University of Georgia for a broadcast museum, $3 million to Georgia College and State University in Milledgeville for its library, and provided large sums to Mercer Press in Macon for publications of numerous books of Southern history and biography.
"Mercer University Press exists because of Tom Watson Brown," Shipp said.
Brown, moreover, donated large sums from his personal fortune to sponsor a debate series between candidates for high-profile statewide offices of governor and U.S. Senate and House that the Atlanta Press Club organized and broadcast on Georgia Public Television.
During the Christmas season, Brown delighted visitors and grandchildren with his Snow Village, a miniature world of more than 100 mostly circa-1930 structures including houses, an airport, carousel, skating rink and a football stadium, which he began collecting in the early 1980s.
Reusable "snow" spewed from a rectangular plastic cloud hanging from the ceiling in his historic home, originally known as the McNeal Home.
Built in 1842, it was the residence of the late James V. Carmichael, general manager of Bell Aircraft in Marietta. Brown bought the house in 1993, when he moved from Atlanta.
Brown led numerous business, civic, philanthropic and scholarly organizations. He served on the boards of the Atlanta Historical Society, the Georgia Historical Society, the Georgia Civil War Commission, the Atlanta Legal Aid Society and the Georgia Legal History Foundation, to name a few.
He is preceded in death by his first wife, Mary Ellen McLaughlin Brown, his second wife, Anne Henderson West Brown, and two sons: John Judson Brown II and John Durham West Brown.
His remaining four children survive him: Melissa Ellen Brown Cummings of Massillon, Ohio, Thomas "Tad" Watson Brown Jr. of Evans, Anne Georgia Lawrence Brown McCarroll of Memphis, Tenn., and Elizabeth Courtney Brown of Marietta and eight grandchildren.
The family will receive friends from 4 to 6 p.m. Tuesday at Mayes-Ward Dobbins Funeral Home in Marietta. Services will be held at 2 p.m. Wednesday on the west lawn of Hickory Hill, the historic home of Brown's great-grandfather, former U.S. Sen. Thomas E. Watson, in Thomson.