James Brown IV became the Trust’s second executive director in 1949. By developing warmer relationships with donors and by listening more closely to their needs and concerns, his gentle management style increased the Trust’s assets eightfold—from $9 million in 1948 to more than $77 million in 1973.
After overcoming polio thru gardening, Trust ED supported green space + helped establish @ChicagoBotanic
Brown oversaw several evolutionary developments in the Trust’s mission and organizational strengths, leading new forays into gardens and outdoor spaces, public television, mental health and medical research.
He was an advocate for Chicago’s most important green spaces, such as Grant Park and the Osaka Garden of the World Columbian Exposition. The establishment of the Chicago Botanic Garden in 1963 resulted from Brown’s close relationship with Clive and Mary Runnells, both leading conservationists and philanthropists in Chicago.
Brown was capable of acting in ways that did not agree with the culture of his time but seem prophetic now. When in 1958 an anonymous donor wished to give money designated strictly to assist white children with disabilities, Brown consulted with the Executive Committee and declined the gift, on the grounds that such a donation should be benefit children of all races.
William Rice Odell, who served on the Executive Committee in the 1950s and 1960s, remembered Brown as a wit:
“Jim Brown always made it interesting. He was really the spark… He had a wonderful sense of humor, a way of putting things.”
After childhood polio left James Brown without the use of his hands, gardening was the therapy that helped him recover. His lifetime commitment to gardens and green space proved instrumental in the founding of the Chicago Botanic Garden, where a plaque honors his contributions.
Brown’s great avocation was gardening. He had learned to recover the use of his hands—stricken by childhood polio—though working with plants. Long before he was instrumental in the establishment of the Chicago Botanic Garden, he had helped implement a gardening program for urban youth.
Upon Brown’s retirement in 1974, the James Brown IV Award for distinguished public service was established by the Trust. This annual award honored his decades of service and recognized exemplary nonprofit institutions with monetary awards for excellence.
Was James Brown secretly buried in the Chicago Botanic Garden? Learn about the rumors and his role in the Garden’s creation: Planting the Seeds of Chicago’s Backyard Garden
Brown’s focus on others never wavered. Even in his retirement years, he spent Christmas and other holidays cheering up patients at Cook County Hospital and at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago.
Brown’s influence is felt even today as new green space projects take shape in Chicago, including the civic effort that created The 606.