Gordon “Gordie” Brown ’62 made the phone calls until the very end.
He’d start dialing in the morning and hang up just before going to sleep, repeating the process almost every day during the final year of his life.
The goal was simple: contact any and every living Kappa fraternity member who graduated from SUNY Cortland between 1925 and 1991 and encourage them to attend Alumni Reunion 2014, where the 1925-1991 cohort would be recognized.
“He probably called 500 or 600 brothers,” said his wife Suzann Brown M.S.Ed. ’62. “Luckily we had a free, long distance phone service because he was calling all over the country.”
Brown didn’t stop until he had attempted to reach each of the 667 Kappa brothers with accessible contact information. He chatted with many of them for more than an hour at a time while making calls between September 2012 and April 2013.
“Gordie just loved to talk,” Suzann said. “A lot of these guys were his age or older and he’d say to them, ‘Just keep your head up. You’re going to beat this illness. Don’t get down. We’re going to meet at Reunion.’”
The truth is that Gordie himself was battling a terminal illness — bile duct cancer — and operating on borrowed time. At 75, he already had lived two years beyond the doctor’s initial life expectancy.
Roughly 600 alumni would return to SUNY Cortland for Reunion weekend this past July, more than 100 of them members of the Kappa (1925-1991) fraternity. The brother responsible for the majority of their recruitment, however, was missing.
Brown died in April 2013, just before the Kappa (1925-1991) reunion committee was formed.
The fraternity was one of several distinguished groups at Reunion, along with the Alpha Delta sorority, the Class of 1964 and resident assistant attendees. There were plenty of highlights and stories worth repeating, but few more powerful than Brown’s.
“Any time he would tell me just a little bit about Kappa, he would get so excited,” said Suzann, who attended Hobart William Smith College before earning her master’s degree from the College. “He was so proud of Kappa.”
The couple married in 1964 and spent their first summer as husband and wife living in the back of the fraternity house on Tompkins Street.
“It was — eh — different,” Suzann said. “There were mice running all over and it was gross fraternity living, but it was great at the same time.”
The same passion Brown exuded for Kappa, he poured into his career, his two children and his hobbies, Suzann said. The couple settled in Troy, N.Y., and enjoyed careers as educators — Suzann a schoolteacher and Gordie a longtime elementary school principal. Among his many commitments, Brown stayed active in sports as a coach and track official, a contributor to the local historical society and a volunteer with the American Red Cross.
As the events of 9/11 unfolded, Brown rushed down to New York City to offer support.
“He just loved people and I think people loved him because he was so outgoing and so positive,” Suzann said.
The dozen or so proclamations he received from the Rensselaer County Legislature are proof. So is the New York State Senate Liberty Award, the highest honor a state civilian can receive for their actions on behalf of their fellow New Yorkers and their community.
Even into his final days, Brown’s tireless spirit trumped his battle with cancer. Radiology and chemotherapy weren’t viable treatment options, so phone calls to Kappa brothers took their place.
“Gordie never gave up,” Suzann said. “He would say, ‘I think I’ve beaten it. I think I’m going to get over it. We’ll meet at Reunion and I’ll bring my paddle and t-shirt.’”
There was a void left at Reunion, but a seemingly perfect gesture filled it.
After his death, fellow Kappa brothers raised funds to endow an internship in his name, one that would support working students and their living expenses. The endowment was roughly $7,000 shy of its $25,000 goal a few weeks before Reunion — a difference Suzann made up with a gift in Brown’s name.
“He worked his way all through college, and he would have loved that,” she said.
“Those phone calls, every single one of them, kept him going,” she explained. “They gave him a positive focus at the end.”
|More than 100 Kappa (1925-1991) fraternity members attended Alumni Reunion 2014.|