Bertha Marie Debnam Brown of Lauderhill, Florida, a former Montclair resident for more than 60 years, died on Sept. 27, 2021, surrounded by her family, after a lengthy illness. She was 92.
Mrs. Brown was born in 1929 in Warrenton, North Carolina, the fourth of nine children of the late Robert Lee “Big Daddy” Debnam and Mary Alice “Big Ma” Davis Debnam.
She attended John R. Hawkins High School and graduated as valedictorian of her class.
She met her husband, Clarence Bryant Brown, in 1946, and they were married in 1948, after a courtship that saw him riding his horse to her house and carrying his shoes in his pockets, to keep red clay from getting on them.
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They began their life together on his parents’ farm in Warrenton, where their three daughters, Joyce, Juanita and Connie, were born. Mrs. Brown was an asset to her family and worked very hard in establishing and maintaining the family farm and household. She was an excellent cook, seamstress and housekeeper, skills that she developed and passed on to the next generation.
Seeking better opportunities, the family moved to New Jersey in 1955. Their fourth child, Marlon, was born there. They raised their family on Gray Street in Montclair.
After moving, Mrs. Brown gained employment at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Montclair as a dietary aide and advanced to management as a dietary supervisor. She was able to train and offer employment opportunities to many young people in the community, including her children and their friends. She was loved and well-respected in her career.
After working for 30 years she retired. After retirement, she used her culinary skills to cater food (Gray Street Bake Shop) and also was employed part time by the Montclair Public Schools as a cafeteria worker.
As a young child Mrs. Brown joined the church and was baptized at Coley Springs Baptist Church in Warrenton. She learned the Word, which gave her joy and maintained her throughout her entire life. Sundays were “family day,” filled with worship, fellowship and fun.
She joined Union Baptist Church of Montclair in 1956 and was a faithful member, serving in the Sunday School, the a cappella choir, the ensemble choir and the Willows Senior Group. In 1959 she was featured on a United Artists recording of “God’s Trombones,” and is permanently honored in the church’s history as a Living Legacy.
Dignity, elegance, gentle spirit, strength and humility are all words that describe Mrs. Brown.
Much of her enjoyment came from spending time and being committed to her family. She was exceptionally fond of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who affectionately called her “Nana.” They were the light of her life, and she lovingly spoiled them.
After her husband died in 1997 and until her final days, she lived with her daughter Juanita and her family, ultimately relocating with them to Lauderhill. The entire family wishes to offer a special “thank you” to them, especially Kelli, Tosca and Juanita, for the years of endless loving care provided for Nana, particularly in these recent days.
Mrs. Brown is survived by her children, Joyce Baucum (Eugene), of Menlo Park, Juanita Kinchelow (Jeff), of Lauderhill, Connie Morton (Roy), of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, and Marlon L. Brown (Kathy), of Montclair; nine grandchildren, Tosca (Naresh), Kimm (Tyshun), Vernon (Danielle), Kaili (Dexter), Kelli (Robert), Keri (Joseph), Amber, Leila, and Marlon; 21 great-grandchildren; a sister, Celestine Cason of Royal Palm Beach, Florida; three sisters-in-law, Ethel Debnam, Esther Van Jones and Laura Harris (Leon), and a host of nieces, nephews and countless other family, church family and friends.
Besides her husband Clarence, she was predeceased by her siblings, Romney Debnam, Sadie Woodard, McKinley Debnam, Robert Debnam, Albert Debnam, Barbara Jarvis and Walter Debnam.
Visitation will be Friday, Oct. 8, from 3 to 7 p.m. at R.H. Green Funeral Home, Warrenton, with services at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 9, at the funeral home, with burial to follow in Warrenton.