Francis G. Brown, 94; active with Society of Friends

When Francis G. Brown received his draft notice for World War II military service, he replied:

"My beliefs upon which I claim exemption stem from a very fundamental religious principle. ...

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Francis G. Brown

“There is something of God in every man. I believe that all men, viewed thus, are infinitely precious and are therefore entitled to be treated with respect. ...

“War submerges the good in men and brings out fear, hate, and distrust. ... Therefore, I affirm that all war, whether offensive or defensive, is morally wrong."

Mr. Brown earned the status of wartime conscientious objector, known as a CO.

On Sunday, May 27, Mr. Brown, 94, a Chester County dairy farmer who served as general secretary of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends from 1964 to 1980, died of respiratory failure at his home in Downingtown.

Born in the house where he died, Mr. Brown was educated in Quaker-related surroundings, attending Downingtown Friends School and Westtown School before graduating from the Haverford School in 1935 and earning a bachelor’s degree in economics at Haverford College in 1939.

In the winter of 1941-42, he worked as a CO surveyor in North Carolina, mapping the boundaries of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Later in the war, he told an Inquirer interviewer in 1994, he worked as a firefighter in California and as a milk tester in Connecticut.

"We were under conscription. We weren’t free ... but it was a great experience," he said.

His ascent to the Philadelphia leadership took time. Though a full-time farmer, "he had been very active in the Downingtown Friends Meeting," his daughter Martha Bryans said, and then in the larger Caln Quarterly Meeting. "When you do those, you get people’s attention."

It was a natural step up, she said, when in 1958 he became associate general secretary of the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, which not only "encompasses Southeastern Pennsylvania, central and southern New Jersey, Delaware, and parts of Maryland ... but also is the administrative hub of Quakers in this area."

At times, Mr. Brown’s beliefs turned into activism.

In 1982, he shared a stage with Cardinal John Krol, leader of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Philadelphia, Mayor William J. Green, and several others on Independence Mall at what was reported to be the largest peace demonstration since the Vietnam War ended in 1975. It came at a time when Congress was considering legislation to freeze the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

Though Mr. Brown spent decades as a Quaker leader, he had long manned a 30-acre dairy farm that his parents had bought in 1915. He ran it until going to the Quaker headquarters in Philadelphia in 1958, when he contracted with another farmer to run it. Eventually, Mr. Brown sold the dairy cows and raised Black Angus cattle.

Mr. Brown was a trustee for the Old Caln Meeting House, which he helped to preserve.

Recently, he completed his memoir, Quaker Legacy: A Family Homestead, which his family will publish. "It’s about a way of life that is recent," his daughter said, "but so far gone."

Besides his daughter, Mr. Brown is survived by a son, David W.; daughters Deborah Miles and Olivia Ott; six grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife, Enid, died in 2006. He was preceded in death by three brothers.

A memorial service was set for 11 a.m. Friday, June 1, at the Downingtown Friends Meeting, 800 Lancaster Ave., Downingtown. Burial is to be private.

 

Contact Walter F. Naedele at 215-854-5607 or wnaedele@phillynews.com.