The Lifetime Achiever in Education Award will look a little different at the St. Louis American Foundation’s 2019 Salute to Excellence in Education Gala on Saturday, September 21. For the first time, the award will go to a couple — Charles and Shirley Brown. Among many educators and their numerous former students, the pair of educators need no introduction.
“They come as a package,” said Kelvin R. Adams, superintendent for Saint Louis Public Schools. “They are servant leaders because they continue to give back and continue to show every effort around supporting kids and this community.”
They are so much a package deal that Adams believes the phrase “dynamic duo” should be permanently changed to “Charles and Shirley.”
Laughing at her husband’s joke, Karen Collins-Adams agreed wholeheartedly.
“They have given a lifetime to the community,” said Collins-Adams, who is the principal at Townsend Elementary and worked under Charles Brown in the Wellston School District. “That teaches a lesson to all of us. Both of them have shown us that it’s important to stay connected to the community, and they do that through their work.”
Put together, Charles and Shirley Brown have spent more than 100 years working in education in Missouri, almost entirely in St. Louis. Both started their teaching careers at elementary schools in the late 1960s, and they still are actively involved in educational programs today, though technically retired.
Much of Shirley Brown’s work stems from her formation of desegregation initiatives through the Saint Louis Public Schools’ School Partnership Program, starting in 1981. In that role, she coordinated more than 300 partnerships between the district and community supporters, including Fortune 500 companies, cultural institutions, hospitals, governmental agencies, professional sports teams and the media. Out of these partnerships, she still helps students build a foundation in the medical field through the ongoing initiatives at the medical schools of Washington University and University of Missouri at Columbia. She is still active with the KSDK Channel 5 partnership as well.
“I can’t say that I’ve stopped,” said Shirley Brown. “I’ve slowed down. The passion is still there. The things that I do, I couldn’t do without Charlie. We’re a team. The kids get a kick out of us, and we love it.”
After serving in various roles at the Saint Louis Public School District from 1969 to 2002, Charles Brown ultimately became the assistant commissioner of teacher quality and urban education for the State of Missouri. He also served as the superintendent of Wellston School District for four years when it was struggling to regain its accreditation.
Charles Brown is among the original New Orleans Saints football players of 1967, where he played for about two years before going on to the British Columbia Lions. He sees a lot of similarities between his educational and football careers.
“You have the same challenges,” Charles Brown said. “You have losses, you have gains. You don’t want to take learning lightly. You have to be focused and have to have goals. More importantly, you have to be a team player.”
When Charles Brown was a coach for football and track in his early years in SLPS, Shirley Brown was “coaching from the sidelines” right there with him, said their son, Daniel R. Brown, an attorney.
“They said, ‘Your mom was tougher on us than your dad was,’” he said, laughing. “I am always being approached by their former students telling me how much they impacted their lives.”
A chance meeting
As a freshman football star at Mizzou, Charles Brown said he noticed a young lady “with Betty Davis eyes” carrying her laundry basket one day and offered his help.
“He asked if I knew who he was,” Shirley Brown said. “I said, ‘Everyone knows who you are.’ He ran back to the dorm and got some of his dirty clothes, so our first date was at the laundromat.”
Charles Brown then tells the second part of the story. Later that evening, all the football players in the dorms were teasing him that he never got any dates. In order to prove that he did, he called Shirley Brown that night.
“I asked her out, and she hung up on me,” he said. “But I kept on talking like she was going to give me a chance. ‘How about Saturday?’ ‘Yea, sure that’s fine.’ All the guys thought I had a date, but she actually had hung up on me.”
After graduating from Mizzou in 1965, Shirley Brown was hired as the first African-American teacher at Russell Boulevard Elementary School in Columbia, Missouri. In 1967, she was hired to work in public relations with the New Orleans Saints football club. Returning to St. Louis in 1970, Shirley Brown held various teaching positions before becoming the program coordinator for the SLPS School Partnership Program in 1981. In her career, she secured in-kind contributions of nearly $4 million for the school district. She also facilitated math and science programs honored as among the “100 Best Partnerships in America.”
Charles Brown graduated from Mizzou in 1967. Both Charles and Shirley Brown when on to earn master’s degrees from Washington University. And from Iowa State University, Shirley Brown earned a master’s degree and Charles Brown earned a doctorate.
After his football career, Charles Brown was a teacher, coach and administrator at various SLPS schools, including Mark Twain Elementary, Central High School and Roosevelt High School. He then became an SLPS deputy superintendent of various departments before becoming the assistant state commissioner and then heading to the Wellston School District.
“They have never said ‘no’ to anything that we’ve asked them to do,” Kelvin R. Adams said. “They’ve never said ‘no’ to others and they don’t come giving advice. They come giving themselves, which I think is much more than advice.”