By Keith Thurston
It is an honor to remember the man, the life of a wonderful person, Mr. Hugh Brown of Brown’s Hardware. Most of us called him Mister Brown, not just of respect for his age, but as an endearment and regard for who he was to the community.
He was the third generation of the Brown family to live and serve the community here. In 1883, Mr. Brown’s grandfather, James W. Brown, who had been a school teacher in Loudoun County, moved to Falls Church. He operated the establishment as a general store at that time, and served here on the school board. When he died, all the businesses and the schools in town closed for the day of the funeral.
His son, Horace Brown, Sr. took over operations in 1904. Mr. Hugh Brown, was born here in 1924, and lived in a dwelling beside and above the general store. It was a place with wood slab floors and a coal stove at the center, and the place for hosting community conversations. When he was young, he worked at the store cleaning up and helping Mr. Avon Lee with deliveries with their Model A Ford.
Mr. Brown attended the Madison School, where the Sunrise is today. Even at age 93, he still had friends from his first-grade class who would visit. How many of us still have our first-grade classmates as friends? He wrote in the yearbook that he wanted to be a dairy farmer.
Mr. Brown completed high school at the Jefferson Institute. His older brother Horace Jr. went on to attend VPI. Mr. Brown first went to relatives in rural New York to become that dairy farmer, but soon came back to Falls Church to help run the family business. It was Hugh Brown that changed the business to a hardware store in 1950. And in 1959 he had the new store built, the location we know today.
For almost 70 years he managed Brown’s Hardware as if were a community common service for us. When you visited there, you knew that he was there to help you — not to sell to you. He was genuine, and he ensured that his values conveyed through all of the staff at the store.
He was a man of few words, quiet, even shy. But he had an easy laugh — and a dry wit. He demonstrated integrity. He had a very deep commitment to the community. He was not a big personality. You rarely heard him while working in the store. He seldom spoke publicly on issues — and when he did you knew it was genuine.
We are all blessed with the experience of living in this place and time — in a place that provides a home town character – anchored by a warm comforting hardware store that has been here, family operated, for 135 years. Some might think that is nostalgic and by chance but is not — it was by a deliberate choice. You see, the developers came multiple times. We all know that he could have sold the property years ago, and continued to live a very nice life. He knew the monetary value of that corner and could have cashed out. But he didn’t. He didn’t go for the easy money. He continued working because he knew what that store meant to customers, the community — and the staff. He really lived his values in the face of overwhelming temptation.
When I think of the life of Mr. Brown — I think of George Bailey in the 1946 movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” For years, the Village Preservation and Improvement Society showed the film during the Christmas season. Now the networks show it every year.
In that 1946 movie — when George Bailey (played by Jimmy Stewart), was a young man — he had career options. But when his father died he knew the family business — the Bailey Brothers Loan Association and what it meant to the community and the staff. The movie shows us how different things would be — without the life and all of the small actions of a single person. If Mr. Brown had not lived the life he did, we all would have lost a part of our memories of a very special place — and a very special man. Because of his decisions many of us feel lucky that we could live in such a place as Falls Church — even within the beltway.
When remembering his contribution to the community we are praising him and what we like best about Falls Church. His contributions are etched into our local history — and the memories of each of the lives that he touched.
We bid him farewell — and convey the appreciation for a life well lived.
Thank you, Mr. Brown for your wonderful life.
Note: This year NBC is showing “It a Wonderful Life” on Christmas Eve.