Brown, Rosemary

views updated May 18 2018

Rosemary Brown


Legislator, social activist, feminist

Rosemary Brown, a pioneer of 20th century Canadian politics, devoted her life to the cause of justice and equality for women and minorities. When she was elected in 1972 as a Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in the British Columbia provincial legislature, she became the first black woman to serve in a Canadian parliamentary body. She was also the first black female candidate for leadership of the New Democratic Party. In addition to her work in elected office, Brown served as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission and as a member of the Judicial Council of British Columbia. She was a founding member of the Vancouver Status of Women Council and the Canadian Women's Foundation. Lt. Governor Iona Campagnolo summed up Brown's life mission as "lighting her way through the thickets of residual discrimination, whether racist, sexist, or classist, using her fine mind and elegant manners to set old ideas on fire with their inherent inconsistencies and working to replace them with values for a world in which the common good was served first in a society dedicated to inclusion, justice, and active support for human rights," at the 2005 inauguration of British Columbia's Rosemary Brown Award for Women. Brown died of an apparent heart attack on April 26, 2003.

Brown was born in Jamaica on June 17, 1930. Her father died when she was young, and she grew up with her mother and grandmother in her grandmother's middle-class neighborhood. In her autobiography, Being Brown: A Very Public Life, she described her upbringing as safe and supportive, in a house ruled by women: "It was [a] large place that was filled with the noise of women and children, with their laughter, their joy, their anger…The men who came and went, uncles, brother, cousins—did so quietly and with respect."

Such an upbringing left her unprepared, however, for the trauma of confronting racism and sexism when she moved to Canada in 1950. Arriving at age 20 to study at McGill University in Montreal, she encountered hostile immigration authorities and rejections from potential landlords and employers. She ended up with a private dorm room at McGill because white students refused to be her roommate. Despite the obstacles, Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from McGill in 1955, and at the University of British Columbia she earned a Bachelors degree in social work in 1962 and a Master's degree in that field in 1967. Her college experiences laid the foundation for her subsequent commitment to social activism as well her achievements in political office. In a 1973 speech she recalled the experiences and the attitude they engendered in her: "To be black and female in a society which is both racist and sexist is to be in the unique position of having nowhere to go but up."

Her activities in public service began around 1955, when she moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, to marry William Brown. She and her husband became founding members of the British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People. In the early 1960s, she joined the Voice of Women, an anti-nuclear group that lobbied for arms control and the elimination of nuclear weapons. She also hosted a weekly television program called People in Conflict. In her private life during the 1960s, she worked as a social worker with such institutions as the Children's Aid Society of Vancouver, the Riverview Mental Hospital, and the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Her plunge into electoral politics came in 1972. Brown was working as the coordinator of the Vancouver Status of Women Council's Ombudsoffice for Women. The council was involved in a project to get feminist women elected to positions of power, and they backed Brown in a bid for the British Columbia legislature. When she won her seat on the legislature, representing Vancouver-Burrard, she became the first black woman to serve in a Canadian parliament. She was re-elected to the seat in 1975. Because of redistricting she subsequently represented Barnaby-Edmonds from 1979 to 1986. During her tenure in parliament she helped found the Berger Commission on the Family, introduced bills to curb discrimination based on sex or marital status, led an effort to remove sexism from educational curricula and textbooks, and got a law passed making seatbelts mandatory for children. In 1975 she campaigned for leadership of the Federal New Democratic Party, running on the slogan, "Brown is Beautiful." She came in second after four ballots, but nevertheless won the distinction of being the first black woman to run for leadership of a national party in Canada.

Brown retired from the legislature in 1986 but remained as active as ever. She taught at Simon Fraser University as the Ruth Wynn Woodford Professor of the Endowed Chair in Women's Studies from 1987 to 1988 as well as at Victoria University's School of Social Work from 1986 to 1987 and at the School of Social Work at the University of British Columbia in 1988. Her autobiography, Being Brown: A Very Public Life, was published by Random House in 1989. The same year she became the chief executive officer of MATCH International in Ottawa, a nongovernmental development agency that helps fund projects run by feminist groups in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, and South America to empower women. She served as the organization's CEO for three years, followed by stints as special ambassador and then president. She also served as the Chief Commissioner of the Ontario Human Rights Commission from 1993 to 1996.

Brown died of an apparent heart attack on April 26, 2003. More than one thousand people attended a memorial service held on May 5. Speaking at the memorial, British Columbia NDP opposition leader Joy MacPhail summed up Brown's achievements: "Her legacy will live on amongst the thousands of women and people of color who were inspired and have become involved in politics through her role as an activist, educator, and role model," as quoted on the New Democratic Party of British Columbia Web site.

At a Glance …

Born on June 17, 1930, in Jamaica; died on April 26, 2003 in Vancouver, British Columbia; married Dr. William Brown; children: Gary, Cleta, Jonathan. Education: McGill University, BA, 1955; University of British Columbia, BSW, 1962; University of British Columbia, MSW, social work, 1967.

Career: Government of British Columbia, Member of Legislative Assembly, 1972-86; MATCH International, chief executive officer, 1989; Victoria University, professor at the School of Social Work, 1986-87; Simon Frazer University, Ruth Wynn Woodford Professor of the Endowed Chair in Women's Studies, 1987-88; University of British Columbia, professor at the School of Social Work, 1988; Ontario Human Rights Commission, chief commissioner, 1993-96.

Memberships: Advisory Council of the Global Fund for Women, board member; British Columbia Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, founding member; Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives; Canadian Women's Foundation, founding member; Queen's University, board member; South African Educational Trust Fund, board member; Vancouver Status of Women Council, founding member.

Awards: National Black Coalition Award, 1972; United Nations, Human Rights Fellowship, 1973; YWCA, Woman of Distinction Award, 1989; University of British Columbia Alma Mater Society, Great Trekker Award, 1991; Government of British Columbia, Order of British Columbia, 1995; Government of Jamaica, Commander of the Order of Distinction, 2001; Canadian Labour Congress, Award for Outstanding Service to Humanity, 2002; Harry Jerome Award, 2002; Government of Canada, Order of Canada.



Being Brown: A Very Public Life, Random House, 1989.


Canadian Review of Sociology & Anthropology, August 1999, p. 355-369.

Herizons, Summer 2003, p. 5.

Maclean's, July, 8, 1996, p.2.

Share News, May 1, 2003.

Toronto Star, June 15, 2003.


"Black Feminist Leader Receives Great Trekker Award," University of British Columbia Library, (June 24, 2007).

"In Memoriam," McGill University Alumni Quarterly, (June 24, 2007).

"In Memoriam Rosemary Brown," University of British Columbia; The School of Social Work and Family Studies Two-Year Annual Report, 2002-2004, (June 26, 2007).

"Obit—Rosemary Brown," CBC Radio: As It Happens, (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown," Canadian Heritage, (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown (1930-2003),", (June 26, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown, A Canadian Political Fixture," African American Registry, (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown—Activist," Cool Women, (June 26, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown Award for Women Presentation and Tea," Office of the Lieutenant Governor, British Columbia, (June 24, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown Fonds," University of British Columbia Library, (June 26, 2007).

"Rosemary Brown, She Will Be Missed, " Canadian Labour Congress, (June 24, 2007).

"The Title and Degree of Doctor of Laws, (honoris causa) Conferred at Congregation, June 2, 1995" University of British Columbia Library, (June 26, 2007).

"2002 Harry Jerome Award Recipient—Lifetime Achievement," Black Business and Professionals Organization,www.bbpa.or/Harry/rosemaryb.html (June 26, 2007).


For Jackson: A Time Capsule from His Two Grandmothers (documentary film), LRS Productions, 2003.

Brown, Rosemary (1917-)

views updated May 14 2018

Brown, Rosemary (1917-)

A modern British medium who performs musical compositions on the piano which she claims originate from dead composers. Born in London on July 27, 1917, Brown grew up to become a housewife. She had no musical training, nevertheless, she came to perform in the manner of Beethoven, Mozart, Liszt, and other well-known composers. Her psychic performances, which recall those of Jesse Shepard, another famous musical medium who died in 1927, have been endorsed by famous concert pianist John Lill, winner of the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1970.

Brown has also drawn watercolors and charcoals and painted oils, which she claims are the original work of dead artists; she has written poems from dead poets, equations purportedly from Einstein, philosophical statements from Bertrand Russell, and psychological observations from C. G. Jung.

In 1973 she started to write a play, Caesar's Revenge, which she claimed was dictated to her by the playwright George Bernard Shaw, who died 23 years earlier. Brown stated that she had not previously read any play by Shaw and had only seen a television production of Pygmalion. Caesar's Revenge was staged at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland on Tuesday, August 22, 1978. Patrick Roberts, an English lecturer at University of London and an expert on Shaw commented: "The idea of the play is reminiscent of the hell scene in Shaw's Man and Superman, where characters can indulge their fantasies without being interrupted. There is the same light-hearted debate that Shaw enjoyed so much. But the style isn't Shaw's at all. this is colloquial, more in keeping with a play of today." Christopher Gilmore, director of the Mountview Theatre, Hornsey, North London, who staged the two-act play at the Edinburgh Festival, stated: "I'm positive it's Shaw. It rings of him with its length of scenes and satiric remarks couched in sweet language."

(See also Pepito Arriola )


Brown, Rosemary. Immortals at My Elbow. London, 1974. Reprinted as Immortals by My Side. Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1975.

. Unfinished Symphonies: Voices from the Beyond. London, 1971. Reprint, New York: William Morrow, 1971.

May, Antoinette. Haunted Ladies. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1975.