From Sycamore, Georgia to the world scene, Roger K. Brown has traveled a very exciting and interesting road to becoming one of the most highly respected park and recreation professionals in the country. He was a practitioner who enjoyed his focus at the local level. While doing so, he realized that to do his best job for his constituents, he would need to keep abreast of what was happening in parks and recreation around the country. This interest led to his becoming involved in professional organizations at the state, regional, and national levels. He quickly understood that as the world changed, it would be important to understand the international scene as well.
His farm upbringing taught him a lot about life and the way things work. His small school also gave him a lot of opportunities to participate in many activities and gain leadership skills. He participated in athletics, baseball, basketball, and track, but his main interest was in baseball and played some semi-pro ball after high school. While attending Georgia Southern College, he majored in health, physical education, and recreation and minored in English. The few courses in recreation that were offered then started his interest in the field. Upon graduation and while teaching health, physical education and math, he began to work part-time in recreation. As with many park and recreation people in those days, a field representative from the National Recreation Association helped him move into a position as Director of Parks and Recreation at Calhoun, Georgia in 1959.
In 1970 he completed his master’s degree in Park and Recreation Administration from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.
From Calhoun he advanced to directors positions in; Aiken, South Carolina; Dalton, Georgia; and Durham, North Carolina. He then spent four years as the first Southeastern Regional Director of the National Recreation and Park Association. After four years as director in Miami Beach, Florida, he moved to a position of Director of Parks and Recreation in Greensboro, North Carolina. During his 15 years of leadership in Greensboro, the department flourished. It won two National Gold Medal Awards for excellence in the field of Parks and Recreation Management for cities of that size. Perhaps most importantly, the Chamber of Commerce’s annual survey of the business community consistently ranked parks and recreation services, beauty and cleanliness as the top three factors that positively affected the business community in Greensboro. While there he also hosted the international conference of the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration.
Honoring all of his work in Greensboro, the city council named a new recreation center after him.
Roger chose to “retire” from the City of Greensboro in 1992 and do something unheard of in the field. A national recruiting firm convinced him to leave his comfort zone in Greensboro, move to the Portland, Oregon area and become the first director of the newly-created North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District. He liked to say he made a lot of mistakes when he began his career in Georgia, and he would like to make some amends by starting all over again. After a very successful experience there, he retired from the District in 1997. The District Board created the Roger K. Brown Award to honor annually an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the District. Roger was, of course, the first recipient.
Throughout his career, Roger worked tirelessly in service to several professional organizations. His peers gave him the opportunity to hold several elected offices including presidents of organizations that include the North Carolina Parks and Recreation Society, the American Parks and Recreation Society, the National Council of the National Recreation and Park Association, and then as president of the National Recreation and Park Association. He was honored to be invited as a charter member of the American Academy of Parks and Recreation Administration and served many leadership positions there.
Moving to the international arena, Roger was introduced to the International Federation of Parks and Recreation Administration (IFPRA) through a mutual friend who was serving as NRPA’s representative there. He was also later appointed as the representative of NRPA to IFPRA. Roger’s leadership abilities and commitment were recognized by that organization. While attending his first international IFPRA conference and board meeting in Auckland, New Zealand in 1986, the IFPRA Board and delegates accepted his invitation to host the 1989 International Congress in Greensboro. This is the first time that an IFPRA congress had been held in the United States. At the same time, Roger accepted the invitation to serve as president-elect of that organization. After a few months, it was necessary for the then president of IFPRA to resign for health reasons, and Roger assumed the position of president, a position which he held for 5 ½ years. It is a tribute to him that he was able to handle these responsibilities, host the International Congress in Greensboro, and also continue to perform his local duties at a high level as director of the Greensboro department.
When Roger took over as president, the organization was experiencing some difficulties with low membership and minimal financing, and its members credited him for bringing financial and organizational stability to IFPRA. Its Executive Director, Alan Smith, at the organization’s international headquarters in England, credits the 5 ½ years Roger served as its president with “saving the organization”. He was subsequently recognized by being elected as a Life Member of the IFPRA Board. Only one other person, who was founder of the organization, has been awarded such recognition. Roger visited more than a dozen countries in Europe and Asia and made several trips to Japan. The Parks and Open Space Association of Japan had established the Sato Prize in honor of the most influential park planner and professional in that country. In 1993 that organization presented Roger the Sato Prize Award which was the first time it was awarded. To this date he is still the only non-Japanese to be honored with the award.
Throughout his career, his very successful management style included his strong belief that it was important to give the staff as much ownership of the department’s programs and facilities as he had. When the department received recognition in the form of some award, he always made sure the city manager, mayor, council, and the department’s advisory board were made aware of it. In so doing he also included the names of key staff members involved. When appropriate, such as a special recognition for the Landscape Maintenance Division by the Chamber of Commerce on the way the city streets and boulevards were landscaped and maintained, he always made a point to go by that Division in the early morning before they left on assignments for the day and tell them what that kind of recognition does, not only for their Division, but for the whole department and city in general. Other examples include whenever a new policy proposal to the advisory board was presented, he had a division head present the proposal and answer the board’s questions. He would introduce the topic and then call upon the division head for the more in-depth presentation. This gave them ownership and experience at a higher level. If it needed to go to the city council for approval, the city manager expected Roger to handle it. Sometimes he asked the division head to join him at the council meeting so that they would see how things were handled at that level. One more thing about leading by example: When he was on a tour of a park with staff and saw litter, he picked it up and carried it with him until he reached a trash receptacle. He never made reference to it, but just let them know their Director was not above picking up trash. These are good examples for inspiring administrators in the field.
When asked about his feelings regarding his career, Roger noted the successes he had with IFPRA as indicated above. He also talked about his time with NRPA and will always treasure his time as President. Of course, his experience with the departments in several cities are all important, but his achievements at Greensboro stand out. Then he notes that after retiring from Greensboro, the thrill of starting the new North Clackamas Parks and Recreation District from scratch were equally rewarding. When he started, he was the only employee. He developed that department with six staff members and eight parks within the first six months. Acquiring land for parks, building an aquatic park, and attending various neighborhood community meetings were very energizing.
Since retiring in 1997, Roger and Faye have enjoyed their retirement years while visiting children and grandchildren, volunteering in their church, civic organizations, other local community activities, and long walks together. Roger also enjoys golf, working in the yard, and reading. However, at the top of his list he put cooking. In retirement he asked Kaye if he could do some of the cooking. When she said yes, he jumped in all the way. He now does about 95% of the cooking in the household and does virtually all the grocery shopping. This has become one of his most favorite things to do.
Roger K. Brown is an outstanding example of a well-rounded professional and personal “life being well lived”. It is no wonder that the Academy named him as a Legend in Parks and Recreation. Roger K. Brown richly deserves, and has earned, the Cornelius Amory Pugsley Medal. [current as of 11/2012]