For some people, funerals represent closure; for some, they’re to support the family; for others, it’s a show of respect. And while the guest of honor is in a far, far better place, they’re probably shedding a tear for those left behind grieving.
But funerals are actually revealing occasions. In addition to a farewell, a celebration of life sheds greater insight into the person. One example was Clarence B. Brown III, who died at the age of 52 on Friday, September 3. For some in attendance at Concord Church this past Saturday, Clarence was the husband of Shonn Brown and the father of High Point University freshman Evan and Hockadaisies Ryan and Lily.
As buses arrived filled with people, the continuous flow of new arrivals made it obvious that Clarence’s world had been made up of people of all ages, races and religious denominations. There were attorneys from his days at Locke Purnell, Kronos Worldwide colleagues and his alma maters (Ellison High School, the University of Texas and Emory University School of Law), friends from his birthplace in Killeen, local leaders like Cynt Marshall, Roslyn Dawson Thompson, Judges Lela Mays and Martin Hoffman, Michael Hurst, Carol and Don Glendenning, Gay Donnell Willis, Norma Nelson, Joanna Clarke and a thousand others.
It became obvious from the speakers’ comments, Clarence’s involvement in area non-profits (Community Partners of Dallas, Readers 2 Leaders and St. Philip’s School and Community Center, Parish Episcopal School and the Dallas Chapter of Jack and Jill of America, to name a few) and the presence of youngsters on the program, like Jared Shaw, MJ Ward, Elle Grinnell and Zoe Purdy, how within Clarence’s tapestry of life two continuous and shining threads were friendship and education. For he “believed that education was a great equalizer and that enhancing opportunities for children of color, particularly Black children, would be the key to narrowing the achievement gap in our society.”
His advocacy for education began as an only child born to Kay and Clarence Brown Jr. on December 12, 1968, in Killeen. Both Kay and Clarence Jr. had not only been educators, but the first Black teachers in the Killeen Independent School District, where they taught for more than three decades.
Even though Clarence suffered from rheumatic fever as a child, resulting in three heart valve surgeries throughout his life, he didn’t let the disease hold him back. Perhaps it made him realize that he needed to make every day count. And count they did.
As his friend of 28 years, former Locke Purnell associate Khan Nguyen, said, “That man never complained about anything. Always a smile on his face.” In any situation, Clarence’s response was, “I’m fine.”
In reading a resolution honoring Clarence, Ellison High School classmate Deborah Cloud Beene described him as “the epitome of an eagle” and the “heart and soul of the class of 1987.”
On scholarship to the University of Texas, Clarence received the David L. Fuhrman Leadership Award and was a director of the Undergraduate Business Council. Emory University School of Law classmate Bobby Robertson recalled how in their class of 230 or more, he and Clarence had been one of five Black students. Instead of competing with each other or allowing their personalities to clash, they became known as the Fab Five, and still are to this day.
It would be years later during his tenure at Locke Purnell that education even played a role in his meeting the love of his life. As Khanh recalled, the two Locke Purnell attorneys were tasked with the interviewing of candidates from SMU for positions with the firm on separate days. Each man was to list their recommendations. Clarence went first and called Khanh that evening, saying, “There is one in particular. [Laughter] I think she’s a great candidate.” After meeting the candidate, Khanh agreed with Clarence that she was indeed a powerhouse. In addition to Shonn’s joining the law firm, Clarence and Shonn married three years later.
Another close friend, Toby Purdy, shared what was known as “Clarence’s messy dust.” Clarence would throw out a topic … “Controversial, of course. He would get everybody going. Then he would fuel it by throwing in an opposite point of view that he had no belief in. And as everyone got worked up and heated, he would look over the top of his glasses as only Clarence would do and say ‘Ya’ll messy.’”
In closing the service, St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church Pastor Richie Butler’s eulogy provided comfort to all gathered that Clarence was a star who not only shared the stage, but wanted everyone else to be the star as well. To spread the word, Butler asked all to pull out their cellphones and take a selfie for their social media with the posts, #CelebrateClarenceBrown, #GoodSuccess, #ALifeWellLived and IknowWhoIamBecauseIKnowWhoseIam.
In a Facebook post, Sonja Shelby wrote about Clarence’s influence on her daughter Staci Shelby:
The minister asked that we post a selfie with a remembrance of how Clarence impacted our lives. I am terrible at selfies and this memory is a great example of his influence.
“Staci Shelby called to tell Shonn that she got into several top law schools including Harvard. The only one that offered no scholarship money was Harvard. In spite of that, we could hear Clarence in the background saying ‘She is going, right?’ We dutifully answered ‘Yes’.
“Clarence was right, the money came and this picture is of her first day of her final year. She will graduate in May of 2022.
“Thank you Clarence for those four words ‘She is going, right?’ Just another life that you impacted in your special way.
“And, oh yeah, he also advised her to spend a summer working in NY which was another great decision.”
Clarence B. Brown III’s life was far too short, but it was indeed well-lived and well-loved.