G. Russell Brown

Illness Fatal to Prof. Brown


Retired Educator, Member of Court and Leader in GOP Dies at age 84

G. Russell Brown, 84-year old retired educator who for years held an influential position in Hamilton County affairs, died yesterday at 4:45 p.m. at the home of his daughter on the Browntown Road following an illness of some two weeks.

The aged political leader had been in bad health for more than a year. But he rallied successfully from each attack until his final illness. He had been in a coma since Monday.

Funeral plans had not been completed last night.

Mr. Brown descended from a family that long has been prominent in the affairs of Hamilton County and Tennessee. His father, the late Return Brown, like his son, was a member of the quarterly county court for many years. His mother Nancy Anne Varner, also was a member of a pioneer Hamilton County family.

He had been living at the residence of his daughter, Mrs. Hazel Brown Phifer, since the death of his wife.

Pioneer Settlers

The Brown family settled the section called Browntown a few miles north of Red Bank early in the Nineteenth Century. G. Russell Brown’s grandfather, John (James) Berry Brown, brought his family from North Carolina to settle the community while Cherokee Indians still lived in and roamed the forest of that frontier area.

Mr. Brown was born May 26, 1867. His education was acquired in the Hamilton County public schools and in various teacher training schools. He started his career in education as a 17-year-old boy, Hamilton County school authorities sent him in 1884 to become principal of a one-room school at Sawyers on Walden’s Ridge. In that little mountain school Prof. Brown started a career that was to span 63 years, of which time he spent 57 on active duty in classrooms and the principal’s office. Some of those he taught in his early years now have great-great-grandchildren.

Prof. Brown believed in and practiced the theory that to "spare the rod was to spoil the child" and soon gained a wide reputation as a principal of force and leadership. He was in demand at various schools and finally he came to North Chattanooga to become principal of a fairly large school on Manning Street. For 27 years - from 1912 to 1939 - he was principal of that school. It was in the Hamilton County system when Prof. Brown became principal, but in 1929 it was added to the city system by annexation of North Chattanooga. That school now and for many years has borne his name - the G. Russell Brown School - in recognition of his leadership and effective administration at the suburban school. Few principals have been honored by having a public school which they headed named for them while they were still on the job.

After Prof. Brown’s retirement in 1939 from the city school system he continued to remain active in other matters because at that time he was a member of the quarterly county court. His retirement from the classroom, however, was soon to be interrupted. During World War II teachers and principals were at a premium because of manpower requirements to fight the war. Prof. Brown reluctantly accepted a call back to duty and took over as principal of the Falling Water School. Two years later, however, he stepped down, thus ending a teaching career he had started 63 years earlier.

Public Affairs Interest

All the time he functioned as principal in the public schools, Prof. Brown was intensely interested in public affairs. He yearned to follow the footsteps of his father and represent the people of his civil district in the quarterly county court. As a child he had attended sessions of the court with his father and his ambition to become a squire started with that experience. The chance came in 1922 when a vacancy occurred in the Third district Prof. Brown threw his hat into the ring and won. In all, he represented the people of the Third civil district in the quarterly court for 28 years. It was through that association that he started a close friendship with county Judge Wilkes T. Thrasher. The county judge has been one of the most constant visitors at the Phifer home since his fatal illness started. Judge Thrasher was elected as a member of the county court in 1924 from the Third district. That year Squire Brown, was a candidate, the un-expired term he was elected to fill in 1922 having expired that year. He found Thrasher, the youngest member of the court, as his colleague from the Third. They worked together harmoniously, although one a Democrat and the other a Republican. Judge Thrasher, the Democrat, referred to his former colleague the other day as " a liberal Republican." In his race Squire Brown usually had more Democrats in his camp than Republicans.

Shortly after their election in 1924 a delegation of their constituents in some public service visited a sagacious and respected Third district leader, the late Emmett Pitts of Falling Water. He advised the delegation to enlist the services of "Rhode Island Red" Brown and "that simmon-headed boy - he’s got more sense in that ‘simmon head’ than you might think." He was referring to Brown and Thrasher. The "Rhode Island Red" nickname given the budding redheaded squire stuck with him for the remainder of his years.

As a member of the county court Squire Brown was in many important and decisive political battles. He joined Thrasher in the sensational revolt of the "rebel squires" in 1939 that was to lead to being legislated out of the office two years later. Thrasher and Brown had been staunch supporters of the former County Judge Will Cummings, but they lined up with four other squires to defeat Arthur L. Rankin for re-election as county school superintendent and elect Marshall Clark who now is engaged in a law suit over whether he or Roy Smith of Red Bank is the superintendent.

Squire Brown’s principal interest as a member of the court was education and the welfare of public school teachers. He made five races for a seat in the court from his home district, and never lost a single race. One time the Republican party revolted and defeated him for the nomination. But he continued the race and won the seat again, with the help of Democrats.


Is Legislated Out

The redistricting act of 1941 divided the county into two civil districts and left Squire Brown out of the court. That was an aftermath of the "rebel squires" battle on the Cummings administration. Not only did the change take place in the county government, but also that year the court was stripped of its administrative, legislative and judicial authority by the creation of the County Council and the court of general sessions.

In 1942 there was a bitter fight for the control of the county government, and the late County Judge Wiley O. Couch emerged as the victor over Judge Cummings. Squire Brown sided with Judge Couch in that contest. Thus, when the general assembly met in 1943 the Hamilton County delegation passed a new redistricting act, dividing the county again into three civil districts. Squire Brown was named in the act as one of the Third District squires, but he had to run for election the following year. That was his final race , as in 1948 he declined to become a candidate for re-election because of failing health. But a year later the court elected him a member of the county board of equalization, an office he was holding at his death. The sessions were held last June, and he was able to attend all of them but two.

In additional to his educational experience, Squire Brown was devoted to community singing. He took part in many "singing conventions" here and elsewhere in the Chattanooga area. For 14 years he was president of the Hamilton County Singing Convention.

For many years Squire Brown served as secretary of the Hamilton County Republican executive committee. To climax his many years of service to that committee, he was elected as its chairman for one or two terms.

The same year he started teaching school the young teacher became a member of the Red Bank Cumberland Presbyterian Church. His has retained his membership in that church since, and at his death was an elder.

Surviving are a daughter, Mrs. Phifer; a son Cyrus R. Brown of Chattanooga, and two brothers Prof., J. B. Brown and Al H. Brown. His elder brother, J. B. Brown, also has a distinguished record in educational field. He rose from a one-room principal at Sawyers to become the state superintendent of education in 1921.

Chattanooga Times, Friday, July 27, 1951


One note of correction to the obituary is that, G. Russell’s father was named James not John.

Submitted by James M. Dunn, Jr.