A legacy of staunch advocacy for children was made manifest with the dedication and installation of a plaque honoring Dr. George Brown at Project Playground.
At an event Saturday at the popular and persistent playground near Twin Lakes, friends and family shared fond memories of Brown. who served Juneau children and their families as a pediatrician for 15 years prior to his death in 2016. Speakers recalled a dogged, smiling force for good both in the capital city community and beyond.
“He was just such a force to be reckoned with,” said Dr. Amy Dressel, who worked with Brown at Glacier Pediatrics and described him as “humanitarian, feminist, childist —such a wonderful, positive person.”
“I had always said ‘When I grow up, what I want to be is George Brown,’ ” Dressel told the Empire. “He was a champion for kids and women, an all-around great guy.”
Despite being held in high esteem by many and earning accolades — including the first C. Henry Kempe Award from the International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect and the Ray Helfer Award from the National Alliance of Children’s Trusts and the American Academy of Pediatrics —Dr. carolyn Brown, who married George days before the two graduated from medical school in 1964, said her husband was not one to easily accept praise.
“I would look at him sometimes, and say, ‘You’re just so good,’ and he’d say, ‘Nobody is that good, carolyn,’ and I’d say ‘Oh, but you are,” carolyn told the Empire in an interview ahead of the ceremony. During the event, a visibly emotional carolyn limited her remarks to thanking those in attendance. Afterward, she said she was thankful for sunny weather that graced the event and its celebratory tone.
While George’s time in Juneau dated back to 2001, his history with Alaska stretched back much further. George and carolyn first moved to the state in 1965 as commissioned officers in the U.S. Public Health Service.
carolyn said they were given a choice between the Southwestern U.S., which she found unappealing after growing up in Texas, and Alaska.
“George and I looked at each other, green as grass, we’d never studied anything but medicine all of our lives, but we looked at each other and said ‘Where exactly was Alaska?”
After wrapping their minds around the geography, the Last Frontier would be home for the Browns off and on over the ensuing decades. The Browns also lived and worked in Kenya, Haiti, Hawaii and Vermont. During the dedication ceremony, Ben Brown, George Brown’s son, spoke proudly of the Alaska-Kenya Health Scholarship Program founded by his father, which supports Kenyan high school students pursuing health care careers.
Closer to home, George Brown was instrumental in establishing the Alaska Children’s Trust, which since 1988 has aimed to prevent child abuse and neglect in Alaska. ACT began under the state umbrella, according to a history of the organization available on its site, but is now an independent nonprofit.
“I think of what lasting impact he has made,” said Trevor Storrs, president and CEO of the Alaska Children’s Trust, during the event. “He is living on and on because he recognized children may only make up 25% of the population, but they make up 100% of our future.”
Within months of Brown’s death, Project Playground —a playground constructed through community effort that opened in 2007 —burned down. The trust made a $10,000 donation toward the rebuilding effort in Brown’s name, Storrs said. He said the trust was honored to make that donation toward the park, which reopened in 2018.
Mike Goldstein, who chaired the Project Playground Volunteer Committee, expressed gratitude in his remarks during the ceremony and said the dedication honoring Brown is so far the only major dedication he can recall within the playground itself.
The funds helped defray rebuilding costs, including expenses associated with making the park more accessible for all children, according to Dressel, who also served on the playground committee.
“Before, you couldn’t run a wheelchair or stroller through it,” Dressel said in an interview before the ceremony.
She said in light of Brown’s advocacy for both children and outdoors activity, it was a good fit for honoring George’s legacy.
Initially, a train within the playground was decorated with “Winnie the Pooh” characters as an acknowledgment of George.
“George loved ‘Winnie the Pooh,’ so we decided to draw Winnie the Pooh on it, and I put his initials on it as a nod to him, a remembrance of him,” Dressel said.
The plaque now attached to the train is a more formal acknowledgment that includes work from the Brown family.
John Brown, George’s twin brother, painted a train bearing the Alaska state flag and hauling children that appears on the plaque.
John, who traveled from Texas to attend the ceremony, said he was sure his brother was smiling on the ceremony.
The dedication inspired smiles among George’s loved ones, too.
“I’m just so proud of the whole situation,” carolyn said.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.