Community Honors the Legacy of Irvin ‘Brownie’ Brown

Irvin 'Brownie' Brown appears before the V.I. Legislature at a hearing earlier this year. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)
Irvin ‘Brownie’ Brown appears before the V.I. Legislature at a hearing earlier this year. (Photo by Barry Leerdam for the V.I. Legislature)

A cross-section of the Virgin Islands community came together Saturday to pay final respects to community stalwart, radio broadcaster and family man, Irvin Delano “Brownie” Brown Sr.

The larger-than-life personality was remembered for his endless contributions to his Virgin Islands community through more than 50 years on WSTA Radio, his years portraying Santa Claus at countless Christmas festivities, serving as an indomitable master of ceremonies for Carnival events, and providing for his family.

During a near four-hour ceremony, three of his six adult children, including reggae artist Pressure BussPipe, took to the podium to recall vivid memories of their father growing up on St. Thomas and at the end, when he parted this life in their presence. He was 83.

Brownie was remembered as a humble man who grew up in the heart of the Savan community, honed his musical skills as a drummer – a skill set which took him abroad, and landed on WSTA Radio when he returned home. It was from behind the radio station’s microphone that Brownie’s most indelible mark was made on generations of Virgin Islanders.

On the air, he coined phrases such as “Ah Here” and “Good T’ing,” he created a sidekick, Walter, a man with a thick Tortola accent, with whom he interacted regularly about life in the two territories. In the 1980’s, Brownie made popular a dance craze, Slide Wine, using a wheeled office chair to move about to the rhythms of Caribbean music. He and three other prominent V.I. broadcasters: Lee Carle, Jean Greaux and Addie Ottley, guided WSTA’s listeners with radio coverage through the impact of Hurricane Hugo in 1989. The staff of WSTA was honored by the community in the weeks that followed Hurricane Hugo.

Brownie’s son recalled, “My siblings and I would notice that our father, who we would have wanted home with us during storms and hurricanes, was at his best, on the radio helping our community through its troubling times.”

In years past, Brownie was a taxi driver with V.I. Taxi Association, and in his spare time, he learned the game of golf and earned his boat captain license. Brownie was a die-hard fan of the Atlanta Braves baseball team. In recent times, a stretch of roadway extending from the USO building on the St. Thomas waterfront north to his hometown Savan neighborhood was renamed in his honor.

The community memorialized a man who clearly did not realize in his own everyday life just how many lives he impacted. At the funeral service, performers included Spectrum Band, songbirds Lorna Freeman-Woodley and Shikima Jones, the Rising Stars Steel Orchestra – which Brownie avidly supported from its inception – and saxophonist James Smith. Brownie’s commemorative funeral booklet contained dozens of tributes from those whose lives he touched. Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. led a host of executive branch officials at Saturday’s funeral, senators of the 33rd Legislature were also on hand as well as a number of former senators and government officials.

Following the ceremonies, a solemn procession took Brownie’s body to its final resting place, Western Cemetery No. 1. Brownie is survived by six children: Irvin Brown Jr., Delyno “Pressure” Brown, Delahn Brown, Smyra Dee Brown, Synette Marie Morgan and Sonii Koetter. Other relatives include three sisters, seven grandchildren, and a host of others.