Like many college roommates, Kim Keith and Sue Brown (then Stanger) did not know each other until they began living together, which happened for them during the second semester of their freshman year at William & Mary. Keith, an athletic, pre-med student, and Brown, an artsy, business administration major, seemed like polar opposites. However, the two soon became fast friends and remained in touch long after their graduation in 1982.
Last week, Keith visited Williamsburg one more time, walking by the places that she and Brown had spent so much time in, remembering her dear friend and preparing to say goodbye.
Brown, 52, and her husband, Air Force Maj. Gen. Joseph D. Brown IV, 54, died in a Cessna plane crash near the Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport on April 19. The two had strong ties to the Williamsburg and William & Mary communities.
Joseph Brown grew up in Williamsburg and attended Walsingham Academy before heading to college at the Virginia Military Institute. Sue Brown grew up in Annandale, Va. As a student, she played with the William & Mary Symphony Orchestra as its principal cellist, eventually playing for Prince Charles when he visited William & Mary in 1981. It was in that orchestra that she met her future mother-in-law, who introduced Sue and Joe.
“Once they were together, they were inseparable,” said Keith. “It was one of those relationships that it took one date and then it was all over.”
Keith remembered Sue Brown as a serious student who also spent a lot of time in the Williamsburg community. The two friends and roommates adopted a patient at a local nursing home, whom the pair visited often throughout their four years. The friends also spent many Thursday nights at a local hotel that offered Country Western dancing.
“I think those were some of our best times,” said Keith.
Joe and Sue Brown married in June 1982, just after her graduation from William & Mary. With Sue’s support, Joe Brown went on to have successful 32-year career in the U.S. Air Force, eventually becoming the commander of the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy in Washington, D.C., in 2010.
Sue Brown, who received a master’s degree in business administration from Central Michigan University, continued playing the cello throughout her life, performing with multiple groups including the Fairfax Symphony. She also had a passion for the culinary arts and even hosted her own TV show, “In the Kitchen with Sue,” in South Dakota.
Throughout the couple’s 18 military assignments, Sue Brown committed herself to serving her community and providing support to military families, volunteering her time with organizations like the Red Cross and officers’ spouses’ organizations.
As the president of the Air Force Officers’ Wives’ Club of Washington, D.C., she organized multiple social and philanthropic events, such as a charity ball for the Air Force Aid Society that raised $714,000. She helped administer the club’s scholarship program, providing $30,000 to military dependents and spouses, and she oversaw the Bolling Air Force Base Thrift Shop, which raised $34,000 for scholarships and aid to military support organizations.
Sue Brown also worked to make international officers’ spouses feel welcome, serving as a liaison for Air Attaché wives, bringing international wives into the Air Force Officers’ Wives’ Club, and creating events in which the international wives were able to share their culture.
"Sue Brown was beloved and well-respected across the Air Force for her endless volunteerism and welcoming manner,” said Melody Carey, a close friend. “The College of William & Mary was near and dear to her heart, and prepared her well for a life of service. She is remembered by everyone who knew her for that fabulous smile & zest for living. The consummate hostess always, and tremendous partner to her husband and best friend, Maj. Gen. Joe Brown."
The Browns – who loved to travel, dance and entertain -- had two children. Dan went into the Air Force, and Emily followed in her mother’s footsteps at William & Mary, graduating in 2012 with a degree in psychology.
A funeral for Sue and Joe Brown was held on Friday, April 26, in Williamsburg. The Air Force also recently honored Sue Brown’s memory by presenting her posthumously with the Commander's Award for Public Service. According to the citation, the award was presented for Brown’s “distinguished contributions motivated by patriotism and civic responsibility to the United States Air Force, the National Defense University, and the Eisenhower School.”
Although her friend is now gone, Keith will always remember the amazing woman whom she got to spend four years with at William & Mary.
"There was a part of Sue that put everyone at ease," said Keith. "Her smile was from the heart -- genuine, sincere, authentic. She gave of herself to every community she was a part of. Though our lives went their separate ways after college, when she called it was like the years didn't matter. She was still my dear friend, and I am sure there are many in the Air Force that feel the same loss as I."