1933 – 2010: MISSOULA – Gary Gene Brown, 76, died peacefully at his home of lung cancer, on Tuesday, March 16, 2010, with his family around him, with friends and hospice giving appreciated support. Before his death, Gary wrote that his immune system had been compromised, over time, by pollutants he breathed and ingested, including smoking in his 20s. When chemotherapy could no longer extend his life, he believed that naturopathic therapies and the meditative practice of Qi Gong gave him more time, more life.
Gary was born July 10, 1933, in Hay Springs, Neb., the youngest child of Lyman Alonzo Brown and June Kerns Brown. His father died when Gary was 9 years old. As a child he and his mother lived in Nebraska, Florida and Tennessee, following his brother Lyman Allan Brown on military service moves.
The American Legion and Boy Scout values for which Gary received awards as a youth, and passes on to his children and grandchildren, are honesty, courage, scholarship, leadership, service, and humor. Gary’s lifelong wellspring of humor spiced his family’s life. A favorite source of his humor was the size of his nose. His humor stayed through the end of his days and lightened his journey’s end for his family and friends, even as he grieved. Although Gary’s career was important and even consuming for him, retirement brought him a broader life with close family ties, grandchildren, deep friendships and added involvement in his church, human rights, environmental issues, civic life and his passion, the National Museum of Forest Service History.
Gary served from 1950 to 1954 in the U.S. Air Force as an airplane maintenance mechanic, and was honorably discharged as staff sergeant. Gary graduated from the University of Montana Forestry School in 1960, and began his career with state forestry as a timber management assistant and firefighter at Swan River State Forest. In the fall, he married Claudia Jean Sanders of Butte, and together they lived at the Goat Creek Ranger Station. Gary’s other state forestry positions included State forest supervisor, district state forester, forest use supervisor, cooperative projects bureau chief, deputy state forester, and state forester (chief administrative officer). During 1973-75, Gary took leave of forestry to start a Lafayette Radio Electronics store in Butte with brother-in-law Bud Worth. When the economy declined, he returned to Montana State Forestry, which became Department of Natural Resources and Conservation. Gary’s forestry career at spanned 31 years.
Gary was motivated throughout his career by a strong sense of stewardship for the land. His professional forestry affiliations and awards included Society of American Foresters, National Council, 1985-87, State Chairman, 1990, SAF Fellow, 1991; National Association of State Foresters, chair, Water Resources Committee, 1988-90; Western Forestry and Conservation Association Trustee, 1985-89; Montana Woodland Council, Chairman, 1979-83; Governor’s Advisory Committee on Forest Resources; Flathead Basin Commission, 1985-92; Montana Rural Areas Development Committee, Chair, Forestry Committee, 1984; Keep Montana Green Association Board, Secretary-Treasurer, 1982-1992; Regional Foresters Partnership Award, 1989, creation of the Montana Cumulative Watershed Effects Cooperative; Distinguished Alumni Award, UM Forestry Alumni Association, 1989. Gary’s retirement career focused on development of the National Museum of Forest Service History, with involvement beginning in 1988. He received the first NMFSH Gary G. Brown Founder’s award in 2009, and the Montana SAF Award for Lifetime Achievement and the Forest History Society Merit Award in 2010.
Other retirement interests included floating rivers, including leading groups on the Missouri River Wild and Scenic Corridor, about 15 times. He organized Brown family adventures, including hiking the Grand Canyon to Phantom Ranch; floating the Green River to the Colorado to Moab, Utah; floating a houseboat on Lake Powell; vacationing at Priess Lake, Idaho; and several Missouri River floats. Gary and Claudia took their “pull-toy” (a small fifth-wheel) on many trips to Alaska, the Southwest, Baja, the West Coast, the Midwest and the Southeast. They also bicycled and rode the rails in Ireland. Later, grandchildren changed their trips, focusing on Idaho and Alaska.
Gary worked with the Montana Association of Churches Commission on Church and Society, and served on the MAC board of directors. He served his own church, University Congregational UCC, as well as the UCC Montana-North Wyoming. Conference in various leadership roles, and served as a resource person for United Church of Christ Churches in Montana, seeking to become Open & Affirming to persons of all colors, backgrounds, and sexual orientations.
In 2008, Gary won the primary election for House District 100, and looked forward to the chance to serve in the Montana Legislature. Lung cancer prevented continuing as a candidate, but he remained deeply interested and passionate about the welfare of his state.
Gary is survived by his wife Claudia; three children, Allan A. Brown of Corvallis Ore., Christopher C. Brown, his wife Irene Tresser and grandsons Max and Beau of Anchorage, Alaska, and Robin Brown Miller and granddaughters Sara and Katie of Boise, Idaho. A memorial service and reception will be held at noon Saturday, March 20, at University Congregational Church, 405 University Ave.
Memorials in Gary’s honor may be sent to the National Museum of Forest Service History, P.O. Box 2772, Missoula MT 59806.