President's Column
September-October 2009

Fond farewell and best wishes to TDCAA’s director of operations, John Brown

Barry Macha

Criminal District Attorney in Wichita County

By the time you read this column, John Brown will have left his post after 11 years of outstanding service as TDCAA’s Director of Operations. John was an unsung hero with our association who performed quality work and could always be counted on to pitch in and help with whatever needed to be done.

John grew up in Georgetown where he graduated from high school. After college (UT with a degree in German), he had been doing landscaping work when Judge Marvin Teague on the Court of Criminal Appeals hired him as his secretary. After about 10 months, Tommy Lowe, the clerk of the court, hired John to oversee the financial and computer operations in the clerk’s office.

John worked for the Court of Criminal Appeals for 10 years when he was hired by TDCAA after Judge Mike McCormick, a former executive director of TDCAA, told him that TDCAA had a job opening for a director of operations that paid more than he was making at the court. Not bad for a guy who never had to write a resume or put on a suit for work!

I have asked a few of John’s coworkers at TDCAA to share some of their thoughts and stories about the friend they often simply called “Brown”:

W. Clay Abbott, DWI Resource Prosecutor

John Brown has been of great help to me in the proper use of adverbs. No grammatical blunder in this category goes uncommented upon. His attention to this is very helpful.

On a more serious note, John brings a huge amount of credibility to this office from our grant managers at the Court of Criminal Appeals. His work keeping us funded and out of trouble is largely unnoticed. He doubles as the technical go-to guy. John probably did not break it, but there is a very good chance he is the guy that fixed it. His work on the website is constant and very effective. Take a look at the DWI Resource page! It wouldn’t be there without John’s quiet and constant attention.

Diane Burch Beckham, Senior Staff Counsel

John Brown is the go-to guy for so many things at the association, from ordering and maintaining our computer and audio-visual equipment to online registration, budgeting, and acting as the go-between with countless other professionals. He is the person on staff who contacts our health insurance representative, copy repair people, website construction person, Court of Criminal Appeals grant administrators, and everyone in between. And he is the perfect person to do that. No one else on staff has as calm and patient an approach for all these things.

John Brown is the most unflappable person I’ve ever worked with, which makes him an invaluable member of the TDCAA team. He drives the speed limit (or, often, less than) regardless of the circumstances. He deals with emergencies—audio-visual equipment going out in the middle of a presentation—as calmly as he must deal with brushing his teeth in the morning.

Which is why it’s so fun to flap him—not in emergencies, of course. My favorite story happened on the way home from somewhere in north Texas, when John Brown, Erik Nielsen and I were on our way back to Austin in the TDCAA Suburban from a legislative update presentation. Erik and I were extraordinarily punchy, but tired, after doing the presentation, which made us both more … annoying than we typically might be. Somehow, we got on the subject of people who sing at weddings (Erik and I both have), and how “The Lord’s Prayer” is a particularly dangerous song to choose for a wedding because you’ll either end up starting way too low, or ending way too high, depending on the key you choose to sing. To demonstrate, we began singing it—opera-style, of course—as John Brown patiently drove us home. And we sang it over, and over, and over, and over, starting in a different key each time. We must have sung the song—or parts of it—25 times, laughing like hyenas in between, before John finally threatened to throw us out the windows. That is probably the incident that prompted John to co-opt his now-infamous phrase, “Oh death—where is thy sting? Seriously, where??”

We’ve attempted to get under his skin a number of times since then, but probably never so colorfully.

Gail Ferguson,Administrative Assistant

I first met John when he would come over from the Court of Criminal Appeals after work to mow the grass at 1210 Nueces (TDCAA’s former headquarters). He kept us looking good then and still does.

He is the go-to guy for anything from computer problems, to seminar A/V, to moving fallen trees off cars—which has happened at least once after a harsh storm. He can always be counted on to do whatever is required for our members and our staff.

Erik Nielsen, Training Director

For training, John Brown has been our A/V guru for years. Speakers feel comfortable asking for any kind of hook-ups (DVD/VCR, computer, iPod, etc.) as long as JB is around to make sure it all runs smoothly. He also has been a steady hand with his institutional knowledge of how and why we have done and continue to do certain things. That institutional knowledge also translates to a friendly face that members like to see when visiting HQ or on the road at a seminar, and John always offers a warm smile, a wry grin, and hearty handshake. And sometimes a shrimping net.

JB also lends a hand in all kinds of different areas, including traveling for training, IT support, payroll, insurance, budgets—really everything.

Sarah Wolf, Communications Director

John Brown is the quiet voice of reason in the office: When he talks in a meeting, everybody listens. He doesn’t get worked up easily; in fact, his laid-back attitude is something we all tease him about. But he is not laid-back about his duties as operations manager: He takes his position as financial guru very seriously, and I am continually reminded of his strong moral compass and sense of right and wrong. We all look up to him because of it, and we know that his decisions will be grounded in responsibility and practicality.

Brown works well with others, but he often has to give people answers they don’t like. As the money guy, he carefully keeps track of what we spend, and sometimes he has to say “no” when a coworker asks for a new computer or another big expense. He carefully balances our needs and wants with our budget, which, as anyone in charge of a budget can attest, can be tricky.

One funny thing we all chuckle about: If someone complains about their computer crashing or the copier getting jammed, Brown’s pat response is: “Turn it off, then turn it back on.” It’s his answer to everything broken, which is evidence of his “don’t get too worked up about it” attitude. In homage to Brown, we have extended it to include other stuff: If someone’s car won’t start, we ask, “Did you turn it off and back on?” If someone spills coffee on her shirt, we ask, “Maybe you could turn it off and turn it back on.”

John Brown has quite the flair for fashion. He owns pants in just about every color of the rainbow (including royal blue, leaf green, and brick red), and more than once he and Shannon Edmonds have come to work wearing the same houndstooth trousers, which always cracks us up.

He’s also a runner who competes in local races regularly, and we have printed off photos of him in his running gear and taped them up all over the office—one is even on the phone in the kitchen. So every time one of us grabs a ringing line while heating up lunch in the microwave, we see John Brown in his athletic glory!

He’s also an early bird. Sometimes he gets to work long before 7 am—which means that by 3 in the afternoon, he is dragging. We tease him endlessly about it.

So long, farewell

We will miss John Brown at TDCAA. He and his wife, Brenda, are going to Nebraska to help her brother-in-law harvest this year’s crop of potatoes. After that, John is going to take a little time off before deciding what he wants to do next. He’s talked of maybe becoming a surveyor (he notes that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were surveyors), but whatever he does, he hopes that he doesn’t have to draft a resume or wear a suit to work.

On behalf of our association and its members, we are grateful and thank you, John, for your friendship and dedicated service to TDCAA. Our best wishes to you and Brenda.i