MISSOULA — Dr. Firman Hewitt “Bo” Brown died Nov. 1, 2019, at age 93 at his home in Missoula. He was born Sept. 27, 1926, in Bradenton, Florida, to Firman Hewitt Brown Sr. and Eunice DeVane Brown. Much of his growing up years were spent in the American Southwest, as his father was an engineer on the federal Native American irrigation projects during the Great Depression, particularly in Window Rock, Arizona, on the Navajo. He served in the U.S. Navy, 1944-1946.
Dr. Brown married Margery A. Hunter, March 21, 1953, in Libby. He is survived by two daughters, Sarah Brown McHugh (Robin), Helena and Blakely DeVane Brown (Andy Evans), Missoula and five grandchildren, Anna McHugh (Ryan Gordon), Beth McHugh Driggers (Jonathan), Sally McHugh Boughn (Levi), Hunter Bo Hessian (Katelyn McAree), and Tessla Hastings; sisters Martha Davis and Tempie Ray, and numerous nieces and nephews. Margery died Jan. 9, 1998, in Helena. Bo married his partner of many years in 2013, Melvon Ankeny, who survives him.
Dr. Firman Hewitt “Bo” Brown spent his professional life in educational theater. For nearly half a century he chaired theater departments at the University of Montana-Missoula; Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York; Rollins College, Winter Park, Florida, and The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio.
An undergraduate and later master’s student at the University of Montana in theater and journalism, he launched his educational theater career in 1950 as part-time director-designer-costumer-all-around technician at what was then Northern Montana College in Havre, moonlighting from his full-time job as sports reporter for The Havre Daily News. The next year he left sports and general reporting and joined the college faculty, teaching and working in the areas of theater and public relations (1951-1954) and also served as editor of the Montana Institute of the Arts Quarterly. From 1954 to 1956 he was enrolled in doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began writing "A History of Theater In Montana" which was “perhaps an overly long dissertation of some 665 pages, but I had to cover a hundred years and 147,000 square miles!”
From 1956 to 1969, Dr. Brown was chairperson of the drama department at the University of Montana-Missoula. He established the Masquer Summer Theater (1958) in a remodeled book store space in the old Student Union building and then turned to private enterprise with his late wife UM Professor of Law Margery Hunter Brown as they established the Bigfork Summer Playhouse (1960) which they ran for eight years. In 1967 Dr. Brown launched the inaugural season of the Montana Repertory Theater with an ambitious state-wide tour featuring three plays in repertory: The Devil’s Disciple, She Stoops to Conquer, and Julius Caesar. (He was honored in 2008 for his founding of the Repertory as it celebrated 40 years of touring.)
Dr. Brown established M.A. and M.F.A. degree programs at Montana. He was a weekly arts columnist for the Missoulian and was a founding member of the Montana Arts Council in those long-ago days when the National Endowment for the Arts was just beginning.
Dr. Brown was chairperson of the Department of Theater Arts and Speech Communication at Ithaca College, Ithaca, New York from 1969 to 1979. During his ten years in upstate New York he continued his work in strengthening professional training programs and in conjunction with Cornell University and the Center for the Arts at Ithaca, established the Ithaca Repertory Theater Company, subsequently known as the Hangar Theater Company.
In 1979, Dr. Brown, a Florida native and looking for warmer climes, became chairperson of the Department of Theater and Speech and Artistic Director of the Annie Russell Theater at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida. The sun was shining; he had a house with a swimming pool, the educational challenges were solid. Life was good. Then two years later he turned northward once more.
Dr. Brown joined The Ohio State University-Columbus as chairperson and director of theater in the Department of Theater in 1981, and continued in that position for the next 11 years. During those years, Dr. Brown with a dedicated faculty continued to strengthen the educational and professional training programs on the graduate and undergraduate levels, established the OSU Theater Company, a resident graduate acting ensemble; campaigned successfully for the expansion of the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Theater Research Institute and organized The Theater Roundtable of Central Ohio now a consortium of some 30 theater companies. He continued to direct and teach. He also served as president (1987-1990) of the University/Resident Theater Association, a national organization of 40 major theater departments and regional theater companies, and as president (1990-1993) of the National Association of Schools of Theater, the national accrediting body for theater programs in American higher education.
In those many years Dr. Brown directed over 150 productions including five USO-ATA overseas touring productions. He held Bachelor and Masters degrees from the University of Montana-Missoula; studied at Columbia University and received a Ph.D. in Theater and Speech from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In 2008 he received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Montana-Missoula “in recognition of his lifetime achievements in the performing arts and theater education.” In 2010 he was an Honoree of the University’s performing and visual arts, “Odyssey of the Stars”.
He spent 45 years in educational theater, retiring in 1995. He returned from Ohio to live in Missoula in 2006.
The family wishes to thank Drs. Sheehan, Guess, and Bekemeyer; Partners in Home Care Hospice, Missoula; and all other health personnel who cared for Bo. According to his wishes, there will be no public service. Remembrances may be made in Bo’s honor to theater programs he served or to any food bank.