STEVENSVILLE - Frances May Brown, 83, of Stevensville, passed away at home Sunday, June 22, 2008, after a long illness.
Born May 31, 1925, in Harlowton to Claude and Mae Warner, she was the third of four children. Her father died when she was seven, her widowed mother struggled to raise the young family. Frances's maternal grandparents and maiden aunts were a support system, especially when Mae contracted spotted fever and was near death for several weeks when Frances was eight. Her childhood fears and instability marked Frances with a need for order, a desire for security, a strong sense of family, a need to be a woman as strong and resourceful as her mother, and especially, a deep faith.
She graduated from Harlowton High School in 1943 and worked as a secretary at the War Manpower Commission in Helena.
She noticed that Bob Brown, a Stevensville Navy recruit attending classes at Carroll College, passed the window of her office often. They began dating, first in Helena, and later by long distance as he was shipped around the country.
They were married in Hamilton on Dec. 1, 1944. As Bob was transferred to Navy bases in Chicago and on the West Coast, Frances lived out of a suitcase, searched out wartime housing and found interesting jobs to support herself. Just before Bob was to be shipped out, he was severely injured in a fiery training accident. Frances faced widowhood at age 20. As he recuperated in Navy hospitals for months, she continued to work and save. Bob enrolled at the University and Frances found work, but Bob contracted TB. He was hospitalized for another 15 months. Again, Frances feared for her husband and continued to support herself.
Bob returned to the University and Frances provided support. When Bob graduated from the Law School in 1950, the couple moved to Stevensville to open a law practice and plant roots for their long-postponed family. Frances was Bob's legal secretary from 1950 until 2005, less the six years he served as the Ravalli County attorney.
Frances bloomed as a community leader from the '50s through the '70s, working to raise awareness and funds for Civic Club projects, such as building the community pool, promoting Creamery Picnic, celebrating Montana's territorial centennial, and restoring Fort Owen to receive state monument status. She was active in the Stevensville Women's Club, president for two years, as well as serving on county and state boards for the organization. Deeply involved in the Democratic party, Frances served several years on the Democratic Central Committee. She was also elected the first woman on the Stevensville Town Council.
Her greatest satisfaction came from being one of the founding members of Our Savior Lutheran Church. She helped build the first facility, taught in every capacity, directed and sang in the choir, and supported the congregation in every possible way.
Frances considered her greatest achievement the education of her husband and children. While she mourned her own lack of a degree, she perhaps failed to realize how well she was educated self-educated through her reading and keen observation of the world.
She was preceded in death by her parents; the aunts she cared for in their old age; her brothers Donald and Bill Warner; her sister Lois Hodges; and her stepfather Hank Jordet.
Survivors include Bob, her husband of 64 years; her children Bruce and Mark Brown and Kim (Bill) Lawrence of Stevensville; grandchildren Mandy and Wendy Brown of Helena, Justin (Bernadette) Lawrence of Clinton and Jamie (Marc Taerea) Lawrence of Missoula; great-granddaughter, Kaelyn Lawrence of Clinton; and daughter-in-law Lorri Brown of Helena.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Saturday, June 28, officiated by Pastor David Renfro, at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Stevensville, with a reception to follow.
Honorary pallbearers are Dudley, Greg and Gary Chilcott, Bill and Justin Lawrence, Marc Taerea, Dennis Dickerson and Keith Rockeman.
Private interment at Maplewood Cemetery will be held at a later date.