Richard C. Brown, beloved husband of Carolyn Ripley Brown, died peacefully at his home on Wednesday, Nov. 27. He was 97.
Mr. Brown, better known as Dick to everyone who knew him well, was a maritime engineer, the former owner of the original Dairy Queen in Edgartown, Boy Scout leader, volunteer at the Old Whaling Church, talented woodcarver, little league umpire and gracious family man.
He spent his early years in Attleboro, where he and his twin brother Robert were born. He graduated from Attleboro High School in 1933 and then attended Massachusetts Maritime Academy, formally known as Mass. Nautical School, then located at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston. For two years he lived on the MSTS Nantucket, a 120-foot, square-rigged vessel which served as classroom and living quarters for the 100 cadets preparing for maritime careers. That was when he got to cruise to Europe each year for four months, which allowed him to use his newly acquired skills. He graduated with honors and passed the exam for his third assistant engineer’s license.
Upon graduation, Mr. Brown worked for the U.S. Lines in New York city on the SS American Importer. He pursued his maritime career for 15 years, beginning as a fireman, an oiler, and then climbed the ranks to become an engineer and finally the chief engineer. He served aboard many steamships during this time, including the American Importer, the Eastern Crown, the Lake Miraflores, the Empire State,the A. Mitchell Palmer, the Josiah Royce, the Remson Heights and the Flying Cloud.
Additionally, he taught at King’s Point Maritime College and served as the port engineer for Isbrandtsen Lines, where he worked aboard a fish reduction ship off of Labrador, and carried supplies to Hawaii, England and Australia during World War II.
The latter part of his career was spent with Employ Group Insurance Companies as a boiler and machinery inspector. This position allowed him to travel around the East Coast.
In 1940, he married Barbara Bowman of Oak Bluffs and they had one son. The couple lived on Staten Island until her death in 1963.
In 1964, Mr. Brown married Carolyn Ripley LaBell on the Vineyard in Oak Bluffs, and together with her four children, Walter, Noel, John and Christine, he moved to Staten Island.
He moved back to Martha’s Vineyard in 1967 with the plan to start a family business. He started and literally built with his own two hands, the original Dairy Queen in Edgartown. He operated the business for 20 years, along with the help of his family and numerous dedicated employees. Once, when the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown had to close for a month due to repairs needed from a fallen chimney, Mr. Brown offered the Dairy Queen as a space for the congregation to meet. How many other congregations can say that they met in the local Dairy Queen?
Once the business and property was sold, he also built his most recent home on Munroe avenue in Oak Bluffs, where he hosted many family gatherings up until 2013.
Mr. Brown was a member of the Library Friends of Oak Bluffs and served as treasurer for several years. With his 10 years of experience being a Boy Scout scoutmaster while living on Staten Island, he eventually became the catalyst in the reorganization of Troop 98 on Martha’s Vineyard, and gave inspiring leadership to over 100 different scouts in his 12-year tenure. He guided the development of Camp Duarte as chairman of the Friends of Martha’s Vineyard Scouting. When his wife decided to go back to college, he renovated the Greenough Lodge on Cape Cod while she was attending classes. He also received the Silver Beaver Award, which is one of the highest awards given to adults in scouting.
Church was another vital part of Mr. Brown’s life. In 2011, the Edgartown United Methodist Church honored him in their Angels Among Us — Celebrating Gifted People in our Congregation church newsletter. He served as the treasurer of the congregation for more than 20 years and was active in volunteer work. Mr. Brown was also known for all his help with the Monday night community suppers held at the Church. He, along with his good friend Phil Dietterich, would set up chairs and tables. He served as the dishwasher, salad maker and quite possibly the best potato peeler the community ever had.
But perhaps one of his most famous attributes was his skill in woodcarving, an art he perfected during his long maritime journeys. Until recently, he taught woodcarving two mornings a week at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center. He always called woodcarving “a relaxing hobby.” His woodcarving gifts will be treasured by all who were lucky enough to receive one.
Another hobby of Mr. Brown’s was baseball. He umpired Little League baseball games on both Staten Island and Martha’s Vineyard for over 50 years and had a true love for the game.
Dick’s family wanted to include the following letter in his obituary. He received it from a former Little League player upon his retirement from umpiring. The January 2000 letter describes what he was to them:
The person I would like to discuss who has had a significant influence on my life was not a hero in the classical sense. He did not rescue anyone from a burning building or save someone from drowning, but he did help thousands of young people, including me. This man was Mr. Brown, the Martha’s Vineyard Little League home plate umpire for over fifty years.
Mr. Brown (the only way my hero was ever addressed) was a highly respected figure in the Vineyard community. He was not rich. Indeed, he lived a humble life. He had no professional title (other than “Ump”) . . . and yet, behind the plate, he was the all-powerful “Oz” who was never challenged by even the ill-mannered parents whose children were always “safe” in their minds.
Mr. Brown loved the game of baseball. His games were marked by manners, sportsmanship and fun. His vision of how the game should be played stands in stark contrast to current major league “heroes” who rant and rave with umpires who tolerate their predictable tirades. No batter who stood in front of Mr. Brown was ever given the opportunity to face a pitch until their shirt was properly tucked in and cleats tied. Mr. Brown had control over the game and his gentlemanly control brought out the best in players and fans alike.
Last year, after fifty-three seasons without interruption, Mr. Brown retired from the game he loved. Although his passion for the game was as strong as ever, his eyesight had failed him. Mr. Brown’s contribution to the game of baseball will never go down in the record books, but his endowment was no less real.
Mr. Brown is a modern hero who taught three generations of Little Leaguers the value of sportsmanship and class. Every game ended the same way — the right way, with opposing teams giving each other a “high-five” and no “sore losers” allowed. My hero, Mr. Brown, taught young kids how to lose with dignity and how to win with honor, and those are lessons I will never forget.
— John Cramer
At the age of 95, Mr. Brown received one of his last awards. He was chosen and honored as Alumnus of the Year at the Massachusetts Maritime Academy’s homecoming football game. All of his family attended with pride as he personally accepted the award out on the field himself.
His family believes everyone will agree that the mold was broken when he was born. He was one of a kind. He took each of his four stepchildren under his wing, put them all through college, and gave them exceptional guidance and inspiration. He was truly loved and will be greatly missed.
Mr. Brown is survived by his wife, Carolyn Ripley Brown, and his children, Walter LaBell and his wife Linda of Oak Bluffs; Noel LaBell and his wife Carrie of Dayville, Conn.; John LaBell of Oak Bluffs; Christine LaBell Clifford and her husband Jay of Swansea; seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
He was preceded in death by his parents, James Brown and Shirley Brown, his brother, Robert Brown, and his son, William A. Brown.