Wednesday, August 30, 2006

J. Willie--Math Teacher Extraordinaire

Got this in email today. J. Willie Brown, as we knew him, was the math teacher we all loved and feared at Woodrow Wilson High School. He died today. He taught at Woodrow for five decades and inspired generations of students with his wit, his dedication and his love of math. Here's a write-up from the director of the nursing home (located just blocks from Woodrow) where he spent his final years:

Jay Brown, A Teacher Of Life
“Being a teacher is a good profession,” said Jay Brown, Jackson Living Center resident. Brown taught for more than 50 years, with 35 of those at Woodrow Wilson High School, just a few blocks north of Juliette Fowler Homes. The odds of him running into someone he taught were great, especially in this East Dallas neighborhood.

Brown, born in Hugo, Oklahoma, traveled across Texas with his parents picking cotton. At age 6 his job was to pick 150 pounds of cotton before he could go play with the other children. At age 18 he was valedictorian of Wichita Falls High School.

When it was time for Brown to graduate from high school, he didn’t have enough money for a suit. A neighbor bought him a suit for $2.50 and a pair of Florsheim shoes for 89 cents so he could accept his valedictorian award.

Brown repeated this act of kindness years later when he assisted a young Fowler resident [note: the Fowler Home is an orphanage]. The young man shared with Brown that he could not walk across the stage and receive his diploma because he did not have a suit. The Woodrow Wilson PTA gave Brown $50 toward the cause and the teacher and student drove downtown to James K. Wilson [men's store],where the young man picked out a suit, shoes, shirt, tie and socks. Just as they realized that the $50 was not going to cover the cost, James K. Wilson himself walked in and covered the bill.

Brown graduated from Southern Methodist University in 1937, majoring in math, history and Spanish, with a minor in English. He had actually started teaching school in 1936 and taught graduate classes at SMU while still an undergraduate.

In 1952 Brown came to Woodrow Wilson High School and would teach in room 104 for all but one of those years. Thousands of students passed through his classes, many from the Fowler Home. He was known as Mr. Math to all, including a future Rhodes Scholar, a Heisman Trophy winner and three generations of students.

After teaching all day, Brown would host student after student in his home, tutoring them in his living room.

Brown married Muriel Erickson in 1948 and soon joined East Dallas Christian Church, where she was a member. Together they actively participated in Christian Women’s and Christian Men’s Fellowship. They joined the Sanders Class and were joint Sunday School Superintendents for the Primary Department. They became the first husband/wife team of Elders at EDCC. At age 90 Brown continued to serve EDCC as the Sunday School Superintendent and Elder Emeritus. “I like to go to church as often as the doors are open,” said Brown.

Brown and his wife Muriel adopted their daughter Julie in 1956. She and her husband Mark Alexander have given him three grandchildren, Brandon, Amanda and Caroline.

Julie is proud of her father’s legacy. “He taught his students more than just math--he taught them character,” she said. “He knew what was going on in their lives. We can’t go anywhere without someone recognizing him and sharing with us just how important he was in their life.”

Brown was a resident at Fowler for almost three years. He was an avid sports fan and was always looking for someone to watch football with or with whom to play a game of dominoes.

EXTRA NOTE: I remember J. Willie as the faculty sponsor of the "Senior Pub," a wickedly satirical magazine that made fun of each member of that year's graduating class at Woodrow. Filled with jokes, anecdotes and cartoons, the "Pub" lampooned kids, faculty and all things high school. As I recall, I was "outed" as someone who shaved her toes, the better to be shod in '70s sandals. Great guy, Mr. Brown. Long career, long life, long shadow.


Anonymous Keith said...

I worked at Woodrow for one year but never heard of this gentleman. However, great teachers are hard to come by and I'm sure that the Woodrow Alumni will be out in full force to give this man the credit and recognition he most certainly deserves. RIP Mr. Brown

12:20 AM  
Blogger BlondebutBright said...

I just blogged about teaching and then came across your post. What an incredible history. Also for his family an enduring reminder of his character.

1:09 PM  
Blogger OSUTuba said...

It is great to hear stories of teachers like this that made such an impact on students. People like him are the reason why teachers should be paid as much as professional athletes!

9:33 AM  
Anonymous Dolores H said...

People like him are the reason why teachers should be paid as much as professional athletes!

Correction. They should be paid MORE than professional athletes. Teachers and professors, in my utopian mind, are much more important than some guy who can throw and catch a pigskin across a turf, or a guy who is rewarded for being 7 foot tall and abl to unnecessarily jump up to a hoop they can reach just by lifting their arm halfway up their torso. *sigh*

People like these, who breathe, live, and ARE teachers should be given medals of honor. They do so much more than give out grades. Now if only society would realize that...

11:46 PM  
Blogger Glenn said...

Hi. My name is Glenn Jester and I'm an orphan from the Fowler Home and graduated from Woodrow in 1983. I loved Mr. Brown. I was fortunate to have been a student of his for Geometry and Algebra II. He was amazing. I just happen to be googling tonight looking for other alumni from the Fowler Home and ran across this posting. Goodbye Mr. Brown, I will always remember you, and be grateful.

10:21 PM  

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