Obituary: Evelyn Marie Brown, 84, overcame racial barriers as an African American nurse

05/19/2014 4:46 PM

05/19/2014 4:47 PM

Evelyn Marie Brown, who pursued dreams of college and a nursing career as an African American woman in an era of racial barriers, died May 12 of complications related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, her family said. She was 84.

Mrs. Brown, who knew poverty as a girl working on her family’s farm in Arkansas, determined early “that she wanted to be a professional, independent woman,” her daughter Denise said. At a time when few African American women went into higher education, she enrolled at Kansas University and earned a degree as a registered nurse in 1953.

She met Reuben Brown at the university and married him in 1950. She worked as a nurse before starting a family with her husband, an Air Force officer who was in the Korean War, and left the profession to raise their children at home. After several moves in the military, she settled with her family in Rancho Cordova in 1965 and worked as a nurse in the labor and delivery room at Sutter Memorial Hospital until the mid-1980s.

Mrs. Brown and her husband, who retired from the Air Force as a major, were members of an emerging African American middle class in the Sacramento area after World War II. They enjoyed a rich social life in the military, spending time in an inclusive community with other officers and their families at bases throughout the United States. But the transition to civilian life was less inviting as the couple searched for a home to buy in Rancho Cordova.

“They were based in Texas, and my dad was dealing over the phone with a real estate agent in Rancho Cordova who was excited that a military officer was interested in buying in the neighborhood,” Mrs. Brown’s daughter Julie said.

“They made arrangements for my dad to fly in to town and look at some homes. When the agent went to the airport to meet him and saw him standing there, she just drove right past him. She didn’t want to work with a black couple.”

Mrs. Brown and her family, who were the first African Americans in their neighborhood, planted roots in the community as Rancho Cordova residents for almost 50 years. She supported fundraising, scholarship and community events as a longtime member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc., a service group of African American women.

An expert bridge player, she was a regular at tournaments and a silver life master with the Folsom Bridge Center. She was a longtime member of St. Clement’s Episcopal Church in Rancho Cordova with her husband, who was a teacher in the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

Born Aug. 11, 1929, in Monticello, Ark., Evelyn Marie Harris was raised by her father and stepmother in Kansas City, Kan. She attended racially segregated schools and recalled other public places that were off-limits to blacks.

“She was 12 when her baby brother was hit in the side with a baseball and seriously injured,” her daughter Julie said. “He died on the way to the black hospital because other hospitals didn’t accept blacks.”

Mrs. Brown was a fun, outgoing woman who loved social gatherings and traveling with family and friends. On frequent visits with her husband to Lake Tahoe and Reno hotels on promotional, all-expenses-paid trips, she enjoyed dining at buffets, laughing at comedy shows and winning at dollar-slot machines.

“She was quite a character – always laughing or giggling about something,” her daughter Lauri said. “She was always the life of the party.”

In addition to her husband of 65 years and three daughters, Mrs. Brown is survived by her son Martin.

A celebration of her life is being planned. Memorial donations may be made to any charity.

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