Coleman Barr Brown, 1934–2014
Rev. Coleman Brown, Colgate’s chaplain and professor of philosophy and religion for nearly three decades, died Dec. 14, 2014, at the age of 80. A beloved teacher, minister, and mentor to generations of students and others, he was committed to social and racial justice throughout his career. English professor Jane Pinchin called him an “ethical center of this universe” (Colgate Scene, May 1996).
A scholar of social ethics, theology, American religion, personal counseling methods and theory, and preaching, Brown joined the faculty in 1970 as an instructor in philosophy and religion. He also served as university chaplain from 1974 to 1989, when he turned to full-time teaching as associate professor for the study of education and ethics. He served as acting dean of students during 1976 and 1977. He chaired Colgate’s diversity committee from 1988 to 1990 and the philosophy and religion department from 1993 to 1996.
For his contributions to Colgate, he received the Phi Eta Sigma teaching award (1992), the Alumni Corporation Distinguished Teaching Award (1993), and the Colgate prize for inspirational teaching (1996).
After fully retiring from Colgate in 1999, he continued his pastoral counsel, part-time teaching, and extensive correspondence with many former students, friends, and colleagues.
A magna cum laude graduate of Princeton University, majoring in history, Brown earned his master of divinity degree magna cum laude from Union Theological Seminary in New York, which also granted his PhD. While at Union, he was a resident field worker in the East Harlem Protestant Parish. He went on to pastor an inner-city church in Chicago, where he was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1963.
In 1960s Chicago, he worked tirelessly in major civil rights campaigns, including the Chicago Freedom Movement, a tenant action collaboration with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and “Clergy and Concerned Laymen,” a movement protesting the Vietnam War. He remained committed to ministry and teaching social and racial justice throughout his career.
In 2007, he received the Unitas Award from Union Theological Seminary and an honorary doctor of divinity from Ursinus College. In 2010, he received the Princeton University Class of 1956 Distinguished Classmate Award. Even as Lewy body dementia took a toll on his body and mind, in May 2014, he was given the Pierpont “Pete” Noyes Memorial Courage Award for “never giving up, facing problems, hard work, and cooperation” from the Chenango Water Exercise Group at Colgate.
He is survived by his wife, Irene H’11; their four children, Justin (and Sabine Tibbetts of Ipswich, Mass.), Susan Brown-Zimmerman (and Joel Zimmerman of Melrose, Mass.), Bradford (and Shannon of Charlotte, N.C.), and Joshua (and Zoe Richardson of Burlington, Vt.); and 10 grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, David Warfield Brown.
Contributions may be made to Colgate’s Irene and Coleman Brown Endowed Scholarship Fund. A “Gathering of Seekers, Believers, and Doubters” in Brown’s memory will be held at Colgate on June 6, 2015; for details and to RSVP, go to honoringcolemanbrown.com.