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  • Randall Benton /

    Saxophonist Nat Brown, 73, won a year's free stay at a senior living facility – valued at $50,000 – that he couldn't use. He ended up donating it to 92-year-old widow Edna Hunt, who was looking for a new home.

  • Randall Benton /

    Saxophonist Nat Brown and Edna Hunt help each other maneuver Friday at the Emeritus Senior Living facility at Laguna Creek, where he often performs for residents.

  • Randall Benton /

    Edna Hunt visits with Nat Brown at the Emeritus Senior Living facility where she now lives thanks to his generosity.

Musician Nat Brown's gift brings good vibes to Sacramento widow, 92

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 16, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B

Sitting in a cozy office at Emeritus at Laguna Creek, Nat Brown and Edna Hunt banter back and forth like old friends, but they've only met once before.

"I had a little bit of luck," said Hunt, a 92-year-old widow.

That's an understatement. Grammy-nominated saxophonist Brown, with his generosity, changed Hunt's life.

At 73, Brown performs every other month for the older adults living at Emeritus Senior Living's Laguna Creek facility. So when the nationwide Emeritus chain had a talent contest for seniors last year, Brown entered – and beat out 300 other participants to win.

The prize? A year's free stay at an Emeritus facility of his choice, worth $50,000.

He and his wife of 52 years, Janet Brown, 71, own their Laguna home – and they weren't looking to move into a seniors residence. For one thing, they're raising a 13-year-old granddaughter.

And for another, said Brown, "I'm too busy traveling.

"I told the organizers I'd just give the prize to someone else. And I started calling around."

Enter Pat Beal, executive director of the Senior Center of Elk Grove, where Brown has performed through the years. Brown called, and Beal answered – and thought of longtime senior center participant Edna Hunt, who was looking for a new residence.

"When we thought of someone who could use this service, we thought it would be a great opportunity for Edna," Beal said. "I'm thrilled for her."

Said Hunt, "I didn't really know what was going on. I couldn't afford this at all, but I'd been thinking about seniors housing."

Brown's donation is part of a lifetime of helping other people in need – starting, perhaps, with himself.

As a young boy in St. Louis, he was shot in the face, leaving him blind by the age of 12. He began playing the saxophone at the Missouri School for the Blind, and by the time he was in high school, he said, he was playing with Ike Turner.

Through the years, he also performed with Little Richard, Etta James, Lou Rawls and Jackie Wilson, he said.

But Brown also stayed in school, eventually receiving a doctorate in clinical psychology, and he worked for decades in the prison systems in Arizona and California.

"My function was to get inmates to take responsibility for their behavior," he said. "I'm from the ghetto. We had something in common, but I didn't go to prison. I understood their dynamic. I'd say to them, 'If I can accomplish something without sight, can you imagine what you can accomplish with yours?' "

Since 1997, he's performed solo, putting out seven CDs and playing at private parties and senior centers.

"He just wanted to come do it," said Brenda Chappell, Emeritus at Laguna Creek executive director. "He's so unassuming."

Not surprisingly, Brown didn't want his talent show prize to go to waste, and he's pleased that Hunt has settled in so nicely in the small Emeritus apartment she's occupied since November.

"People always ask, 'Why did you give it away?' " he said. "Why not? Why would I hold onto something that could be a blessing to someone else?"

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