In late March, beloved local historian and retired teacher Jack Brown passed away at 80 years of age.
For those who knew him, Brown was a vibrant thread in Surrey’s historical tapestry. He worked tirelessly to preserve local stories on surreyhistory.ca, a website he created and championed for many years.
If you’ve ever undertaken a research project on any historical subject to do with Surrey, you will have come across the site in your online searches. It provides an unparalleled resource of oral histories and remembrances, collected, organized and made accessible to all. From histories of early families to Surrey’s emergency services, place name backgrounds to early industries and trades, the site has it all. Countless community organizations, sports clubs, churches, businesses and services are profiled on the site. It’s a masterful resource, and one that the Reporter consults often.
The site started with Brown’s master’s thesis, The Historical Geography of South Surrey, which he undertook in 1970. The original research, source documentation and interviews with Surrey settlers and their descendants that he collected for that thesis formed the foundation to what is now surreyhistory.ca.
Since its launch, the site has been extensively expanded through the work of Brown and his fellow Surrey historians.
“He was meticulous in his research,” said Michael Gibbs, Surrey Historical Society president.
In fact, Brown was the fact checker for many professional and municipal projects. Have a question about local history? Brown was the man you needed on the line.
“I think it would be fair comment to say that many people checked with him when writing [historical] articles,” said Gibbs.
Brown received recognition for his efforts with the site, and was awarded the Best Web Site Award from the British Columbia Historical Federation in 2013 and Surrey’s 2014 Heritage in the City Award in the education/interpretation category for the archive.
His online legacy will continue with the financial support of the Surrey Historical Society, under the supervision of society member Sue Bryant.
The site represents years of dedicated work, covering the history of every corner of Surrey. And, if you read carefully, you’ll find some of Brown’s personal history preserved within the pages of surreyhistory.ca as well.
“He was just amazing,” said Gibbs. “He supported people within the heritage community. He was generous with his advice, he was encouraging.”
“He was definitely a team player,” Gibbs remembered, laughing at the energy it takes to “corral” members of the local history group. “He just had a way.”
Brown held several positions with the Surrey Historical Society, including the office of president and vice-president.
His leadership ability, and dedicated manner, will also be remembered by the students who he taught during his career as a teacher. Brown taught in the Surrey School district for 35 years, and spent 27 of those years at Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary School. While there, he taught social studies, history, law and career education from 1971 to 1998.
“I would say of his 27 years at Tweedsmuir, he was very loyal and dedicated and sincere,” said Alan Clegg, whose children were taught by Brown.
“Some teachers are just there,” he said. “And some teachers [like Brown] really put their hearts into the course, and the school.”
In 1992, when the Surrey School Board decided that the old Lord Tweedsmuir Secondary building had to be torn down, Brown was the one who took up the phone to alert former students. He called Clegg, who attended LTSS in 1958.
“The word got out very quickly,” said Clegg. “My phone rang and a few other local phones rang.”
Before Clegg knew it, Brown was heading a meeting at the school and proposing that a reunion be organized so that former students could have the opportunity to walk the halls of their old school for the last time.
In June of 1993, it became a reality. A large reunion — Clegg remembers that a couple thousand were in attendance — was hosted so that former students could say a proper goodbye.
While conducting the meetings ahead of that reunion, the former students got to thinking that they really should create a formal society. Doing so would allow them additional opportunities, such as creating scholarship funds.
Again, Brown stepped forward to lead. “He was the formative guy,” Clegg said. Brown became the founding chair of the Lord Tweedsmuir Alumni Association, one of Surrey’s sole alumni associations today.
As a teacher, Brown was “always so enthusiastic about the classes he taught,” said Clegg, who remembered that at his retirement party, Brown said that he had loved his work.
“Isn’t that nice, when the guest of honour is given the mic at his retirement party and he can say with sincerity, ‘I really enjoyed teaching?’”
Jack Brown passed away peacefully at home on March 22, with his family by his side. He is survived by his wife of 57 years, Lynda, two daughters, a son, and seven grandchildren.
A celebration of life will be held on Thursday, April 25, at 2 p.m., at Morgan Creek Golf Course (3500 Morgan Creek Way).
A Jack Brown Memorial History Scholarship will be created, and awarded to a student with a interest in history. Donations can be made care of the Lord Tweedsmuir Alumni Scholarship Association, 6151 180th Street, Surrey, B.C., V3S 4L5.