James G. Brown, a lifelong Tumwater resident affectionately referred to as “Mr. Tumwater,” died in Olympia Friday from complications after surgery, according to family members. He was 90.
Brown had an abiding interest in all things Tumwater. He knew the history of the city as well as anyone, served on the City Council in the 1960s, resigning in 1967 to take the position of city public works supervisor until his retirement in 1986, according to city records.
He was active in the Tumwater schools, serving on the school board for about 25 years beginning in the 1970s, according to his son, Jeff Brown.
“He was a consummate gentleman — very respected,” said Tumwater City Council member Neil McClanahan. “He lived the history of Tumwater.”
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“He was my historic mentor,” said Don Trosper, who served on the Tumwater Historic Preservation Commission with Brown. “He was a plain-talking guy and honest in his opinions. Plus he was a great storyteller.”
Two years ago, when The Olympian asked readers to share their memories of the Great Depression, Brown had this to say:
“If we were poor, I didn’t know it because everyone was in the same boat,” Brown said. “Several of the mothers got together and they would bring vegetables to Tumwater School, and they would make soup. Every kid could get a cup of soup. I remember two sisters came to school barefoot.”
A man of many memories, Brown said his earliest one came in 1928, when he watched flames shoot out of the 150-foot octagonal clock tower on the then state Capitol across the street from Sylvester Park in Olympia. The fire destroyed the tower.
“I was 4 years old and so small that my dad had to put me on his shoulders so I could see above the crowd,” Brown told The Olympian five years ago.
Brown was born Jan. 3, 1924, to Emmett and Anna (Chopic) James in the hospital in Olympia, but he “lived in Tumwater his entire life,” his son, Jeff Brown, recalled. “Anything Tumwater, he knew about it. And he pretty much knew everybody in town.”
Brown wore his “Mr. Tumwater” moniker with pride. For instance, his vanity license plate on his vehicle read “Tumwater 1,” his son said.
Brown’s fingerprints are all over the Tumwater Historic District. He was instrumental in the preservation of the Henderson House, among other city historic sites. A small park is named after him on Tumwater Hill.
Brown was preceded in death in June 2004 by his wife, Helen Grace (Writer) Brown. They had six children — three girls and three boys.
Services are set for 2 p.m. Wednesday at South Sound Manor, 455 North St. SE, Tumwater.