Delray Beach native Harvey Brown Jr. will speak at the 74th annual Library Association meeting
on Dec. 9 at the Delray Beach Public Library.
Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
If you want to know who’s who in Delray Beach, ask Harvey Brown Jr. He’s a lifelong resident of the city, owner of a downtown business his late father opened in 1955 (the Harvey L. Brown Insurance Agency), and a man with a gigantic circle of friends, both old and new.
He’s also an avid storyteller and name-dropper.
“Folks who are new to Delray say, ‘Oh, we’re going to the Sundy House for dinner.’ Well, I used to insure the place when Addie and Sadie [daughters of Delray’s first mayor, John Sundy] lived there,” Brown says. “And my mom’s maid of honor was Suzy Sundy. These were real people. They’re not just a brand to me.”
Growing up, Brown met George Morikami, founder of the Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens (“I remember him as an old dude. I was too young to appreciate what he was all about”) and aviation entrepreneur Warren Grimes, who had a Japanese-motif home in Lake Ida.
Now 52, the coastal Delray Beach resident has a collection of friends that includes local real estate agent Jack DeNiro, uncle of actor Robert DeNiro.
“Jack helped me spread Dad’s ashes on Runway 33 at the Lantana Airport,” Brown says. “We came in low and slow, and I said, ‘OK, Jack, do it,’ and he emptied out this special 3-foot-long canister we had, so the ashes would get outside of the plane and into the slipstream.”
Brown earned his pilot’s license during college primarily so he could fly with his father, Harvey Brown Sr., who was a decorated Korean War fighter pilot.
“We were just really good friends and had a lot of fun flying together. So when he died in 2005, it was just not the same for me.” Brown eventually donated his dad’s plane, an F-model Navion, to the Minneapolis wing of the Commemorative Air Force.
On Dec. 9, Brown is scheduled to be the guest speaker at the Delray Beach Public Library Association’s 74th annual meeting, celebrating 100 years of operation. He will tap into memories of his 14 years on the Library Board — and all the characters he met along the way.
Prepare to be regaled.
— Paula Detwiller
Q. Where did you grow up and go to school? How do you think that has influenced you?
A. I was born at Bethesda Hospital and have lived in Delray Beach my whole life, other than the four years I spent at the University of Florida and six months living in London during my senior year at UF. I have a strong sense of hometown and have been influenced by the many personalities and characters I’ve met who lived here and have since passed on. Delray Beach has been a town of substance, with fascinating and accomplished people who usually didn’t advertise their success. There was a saying, “You can always tell a millionnaire in Delray because they drive a Ford station wagon with a dog in the back seat.” Those same people taught me about being of service to others without advertising it.
Q. What professions have you worked in? What life accomplishments are you most proud of?
A. I did the pre-college stuff such as being a bagger at Publix while in high school. Once I graduated UF I went directly into the family insurance business and have been here since 1983. In 1998, I decided to fulfill a lifelong desire to get a law degree, which I accomplished at the Nova Southeastern University Law School night program. I took the Florida Bar Exam in the summer of 2002. I also am a licensed pilot, inspired by my dad, who flew 63 combat missions in F-86 Sabre jets as an Air Force pilot during the Korean War.
Q. What is it that inspired you to become involved with the Delray Beach Public Library?
A. Growing up in Delray Beach exposed me to many positive influences in the form of the people who “ran” things around town. I was inculcated right off the bat with the idea that you did your part to help organize, run, and be of service to the town through the various organizations that existed at the time. I was “told” I was going to serve on the Library Board unless I had some objection. Naturally I didn’t, and I loved the 14 years I was on the board.
Q. Tell us more about your community involvement. Why is it important to you?
A. Being involved for so many years with the library brought a sense of satisfaction for me, because the library is good for our city residents — not just for the services provided, but also because our library’s unique public/private funding structure means a reduced tax burden for city taxpayers. I was also involved for quite a few years with the Delray Beach Playhouse, which, like the library, was an efficiently run, locally governed community entity. The playhouse gives locals a chance to try their hand at acting, stage- and set-building, or other “behind-the-scenes” jobs that stimulate us culturally.
Q. What is your favorite part about living in Delray Beach?
A. My many friends and family, as well as my business being downtown, and my church. Every week I go to lunch with friends I’ve known my whole life. It’s a great feeling to know so many people in town who can give me some help or guidance when needed. I’m a member of Unity of Delray Beach, where I was baptized, and I serve on the board of directors there, too. My church continues to feed me spiritually, so I am grateful to have such a wonderful resource right here in town.
Q. What book are you reading now?
A. I just finished When Thunder Rolled, by Ed Rasimus, which is a dramatic view of the most hazardous combat missions conducted by fighters of the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.
Q. What music do you listen to when you need inspiration? When you want to relax?
A. I’ve been a lifelong Beatles and Rolling Stones fan, but my tastes have evolved more than I would have expected. Now I find myself, through the influence of my wife, Marilyn, listening to jazz, the Spa Channel and, strangely enough, the Sinatra Channel on my Sirius radio in my truck.
Q. Have you had mentors in your life? Individuals who have inspired your life decisions?
A. I have been blessed with many mentors. My father, Harvey L. Brown Sr., springs to mind, as he was a smart businessman with such a warm heart for others and animals. He showed me that good business involves not just the bottom line but having compassion for others. I’ve also had the privilege of being guided by Delray Beach legends such as Ernie Simon and Ken Ellingsworth. Ken got me involved in the Chamber of Commerce 30 years ago and I was always impressed and inspired with his “lack of agenda” in the tasks he undertook. Ernie is a giant of a man who has given so much of himself through service in the founding of the Delray Beach Playhouse, as a former municipal judge for Delray Beach, as an active member of the Rotary Club for over 40 years. He is such a good friend and always has a kind and thoughtful word for me.
Q. Do you have a favorite quote that inspires your decisions?
A. Two come to mind. The first is the line from Scripture (Genesis): “They (man) meant it for evil but God meant it for good.” I firmly believe there is a divine order higher than all we see in our life experience. This quote reminds me I can safely stay focused on the fact that seeming setbacks or negative situations can, and usually do, have positive outcomes if I continue to stand firm in my faith and “hold the high watch.” The second quote is “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” because we know that in the end, it’s all small stuff.
Q. If your life story were made into a movie, who would you want to play you?
A. It would have to be someone really good looking and I’m sure the film would be a comedy!