by Alan Schlank
From the Editor: I had the pleasure of serving for more than a decade with Charlie Brown on the National Federation of the Blind National Board of Directors. I was always impressed by his intellect and commitment, and how pleasantly surprised I was when my boss called me into his office and said, “I have a whole new respect for this National Federation of the Blind you are involved in. I thought that if you cared about it, it must be an organization of some significance, but another man I greatly respect also serves in your group. He and I served together on our senior council of church elders, and his words represent experience, wisdom, and a true love of God. You are lucky to have him in your organization, and so are we.” Charlie’s reputation took on a greater shine, and I felt even more blessed to know him and call him one of my friends.
Here is a tribute to Charlie written by Alan Schlank. He is eighty-one years old and is still a computer programmer and demonstrated for me the first Braille terminal I ever saw and eventually had purchased for myself. Alan was a former affiliate president before Charlie, and he continues to be an active member of the Federation. Here is Alan’s tribute:
Charlie Brown died on August 1, 2021, after a long and harrowing battle with esophageal cancer. It hurts us to write these words, for we will miss his guidance, council, and friendship in Virginia and throughout the National Federation of the Blind.
Charlie received his early education at the Perkins School for the Blind. Although partially sighted, he learned Braille and used it along with print throughout his life. After Perkins he went on to receive a bachelor’s degree from Harvard and his law degree from Northwestern University.
Charlie came to Virginia nearly fifty years ago and quickly settled with his wife Jackie in Arlington. He joined the Potomac Chapter of the Federation and remained an active member until a retirement move to Winchester, Virginia.
Charlie Brown was truly a man for all seasons. He quickly became active in the Federation, becoming our state president in 1977. He served in this capacity for over twenty-five years, helping to develop the Federation in Virginia into a strong, vibrant state affiliate. He also was active on the national level, serving on the National Board of Directors and for many years as NFB National Treasurer. In this position he helped bring stability and growth to the NFB. He also carried out projects given him by the Federation leadership while at the same time providing his wise counsel to President Jernigan, President Maurer, and President Riccobono. After his retirement from government service, he worked with the Federation, concentrating on the right of blind people to vote independently and cast secret ballots.
Although the NFB was Charlie’s true passion, this was only one part of a very full life. He worked as a lawyer for the Department of Labor and then for the National Science Foundation. It was for the latter agency that he handled ethical issues arising from those receiving Federal grants of money to work on scientific research projects. After his government retirement, he became active in the American Bar Association, where he served on a number of committees.
Charlie was also active in his local community. He and Jackie raised two sons in Arlington. He was an active church member, a member and leader in the Arlington Kiwanis Club, and a participant on numerous boards and committees.
Charlie loved sports. One of his sons played football for VMI, the Virginia Military Institute, and Charlie faithfully attended most home and away games. A granddaughter is a competitive swimmer, and Charlie was always in the stands at her meets.
Our dear friend had an eclectic mind and a prodigious memory. He could—and would—talk to anybody about anything. Once you met Charlie, he quickly came to know you.At the Virginia state legislature, our beloved friend and colleague knew everyone, and everyone knew him. He lived a full and rich life, giving strength, guidance, and council to all those who knew him. His legacy will live on within Virginia and throughout the National Federation of the Blind.