By Emily J. Minor
GULF STREAM — Sara Shallenberger Brown, the widow of the former chairman of the board for the company that makes Jack Daniel’s, Southern Comfort and Old Forester, died at her Kentucky home in April. She had just turned 100 years old.
Mrs. Brown was a vibrant and eclectic philanthropist who loved her family, a good horse race, and giving time, money and influence to her beloved environmental concerns, said longtime friend and part-time coastal resident Alex Campbell.
“She’s probably the smartest lady I’ve ever known,” said Campbell, who saw Mrs. Brown at her 100th birthday celebration in Louisville, Ky., a few weeks before her death.
“I’ve been with some smart ones, but I’ve never met anyone as smart as Sally.”
Born in Valdez, Alaska, on April 14, 1911, Mrs. Brown was the daughter of Ina Dowdy Shallenberger and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Martin C. Shallenberger. Raised in various European Army posts, such as Serbia, Greece and Austria, she was the granddaughter of Ashton Cockayne Shallenberger, a longtime member of Congress and the former governor of Nebraska.
Campbell said he met Mrs. Brown when she was a young woman attending her beloved Sweet Briar College in Virginia, an institute she continued to support all her life.
Her husband, W.L. Lyons Brown, was the former chairman of the family-owned Brown-Forman Corp. Mr. Brown died in 1973.
But many years before his death, Mrs. Brown and her husband fell in love with the Gulf Stream area in Florida. The couple was instrumental in establishing the Gulf Stream Bath and Tennis Club and Campbell said Mr. Brown was the club’s second president. His wife was equally supportive, pushing the club’s growth toward what it has become today.
After Mr. Brown’s death, Mrs. Brown branched out with her philanthropy, supporting major national environmental concerns back in the day when “green” was certainly not a household word.
“She loved so many things,” Campbell said. “You’d think that everything she was on was her favorite charity.”
Her love for nature and preservation put her inside the boardrooms of many prominent organizations, including the Nature Conservancy, the Audubon Society, the Garden Club of America and the American Farmland Trust. She was a founding member of the Kentucky chapter of the Nature Conservancy and was key in developing Louisville’s Waterfront Park.
Still, while Mrs. Brown loved her old Kentucky home, she continued to return to Florida as often as she could, Campbell said, and visited Gulf Stream regularly until about a year before her 100th birthday.
Survivors include her four children, 12 grandchildren and 29 great grandchildren.
Campbell said she died peacefully, of natural causes. “When you get to be that age, I don’t think you need an excuse to die,” he said.
Funeral services were held May 4 in Louisville, which is where Mrs. Brown is buried.