Kept an eye on Sears Tower vis­i­tors

Former Green Beret also served as deputy mayor of Bol­ing­brook

Chicago Sun-Times - - REMEMBERING - BY MAU­REEN O’DON­NELL Staff Re­porter Email: mod­on­nell@ sun­times. com Twit­ter: @ sun­time­so­bits

It was just an­other day at the of­fice for Leroy Brown when he ducked for cover from an FALN bomb, escorted Michael Jack­son to the Sky­deck or helped evac­u­ate thou­sands of peo­ple from 110 floors or so after the 9/ 11 at­tacks.

For 33 years, Mr. Brown was a fa­mil­iar pres­ence at 233 S. Wacker, known as the Sears Tower when he worked there from 1973 un­til he re­tired in 2006.

A 6- foot- 5- inch former Green Beret, the se­cu­rity com­man­der greeted vis­i­tors from around the world with a smile and “Can I help you?” All the while, his eyes kept scan­ning the peo­ple com­ing and go­ing — roughly 25,000 a day.

Mark Spencer said he once watched the former high school basketball stand­out tackle a man who’d jumped on a Sears Tower es­ca­la­tor to flee a rob­bery.

“Mr. Brown took that guy down with au­thor­ity and held him wait­ing for the po­lice,” said Spencer, former spokesman for the op­er­a­tors of the build­ing now known as Willis Tower.

“When he walked into a room, it was like look­ing at a movie star,” said Scott Row­ell, who main­tained the tower’s el­e­va­tors.

After Mr. Brown re­tired, he was a deputy mayor of Bol­ing­brook as well as a vil­lage trustee, Fire and Po­lice Board com­mis­sioner and safety co­or­di­na­tor for the Val­ley View School Dis­trict. He also hosted a lo­cal ca­ble news show, “Bridg­ing the Gap,” and started “Joyfest,” a Chris­tian mu­sic fes­ti­val.

“He was prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar man in the his­tory of Bol­ing­brook,” said Mayor Roger Claar.

Mr. Brown, 73, died Oct. 31 at Ed­ward Hos­pi­tal in Naperville. It’s be­lieved he suf­fered mini- strokes after car­diac by­pass surgery, ac­cord­ing to his son, also named Le- roy Brown.

Mr. Brown grew up in Clarksville, Ten­nessee, where he tended chicken, cat­tle and pigs on a fam­ily farm that was a way sta­tion for African- Amer­i­can trav­el­ers at a time they weren’t al­lowed to en­ter white restau­rants or ho­tels.

He played basketball for the Burt High School Tigers un­der renowned coach Davey “The Wiz” Whit­ney, play­ing on the team that won the 1961 Na­tional Ne­gro High School Basketball Cham­pi­onship.

He earned a basketball schol­ar­ship to Phi­lan­der Smith Col­lege in Lit­tle Rock, Arkansas, later grad­u­at­ing from Austin Peay State Uni ver­sity in Clarksville.

In the 1960s, Mr. Brown joined the Army, where he served in the Spe­cial Forces. He didn’t like to talk about Viet­nam, ac­cord­ing to his son Leroy, who re­called him be­ing shaken after they saw the 1986 movie “Pla­toon.”

In 1975, he sur­vived an ear­ly­morn­ing bomb­ing that blew out 60 win­dows of the Sears Tower. A Puerto Ri­can na­tion­al­ist group, the FALN — the Span­ish ab­bre­vi­a­tion for the group call­ing it­self the Armed Forces of Na­tional Lib­er­a­tion — claimed re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Mr. Brown cred­ited his sur­vival to God and a well- timed call from Pa­tri­cia, his wife of 51 years, who said, “That was the Holy Spirit that woke me up” to call him at work.

“The win­dows shat­tered and would have cut me to shreds had I not gone be­hind the ce­ment [ pil­lar] to an­swer the phone,” he told the news­pa­per Sub­ur­ban Life in 2011.

At the Sears Tower after the 9/ 11 at­tacks in New York City, Wash­ing­ton and Penn­syl­va­nia, peo­ple “were run­ning out of the build­ing and run­ning in to the stair­wells,” said Row­ell, but Mr. Brown re­mained calm and helped or­ga­nize an orderly evac­u­a­tion.

He also had to deal with dare­devil climbers. In 1999, French­man Alain Robert, nick­named “Spi­der­man,” as­cended the Sears Tower. At the top, “I was there to greet him,” Mr. Brown told WBBM- TV.

In 1981, Dan Good­win, aka “Spi­der Dan,” scaled the build­ing. Mr. Brown kept the suc­tion cups Good­win used in his climb, rel­a­tives said.

The dis­ci­pline he learned in the mil­i­tary was taught at home. “I couldn’t start my day with­out mak­ing the bed,” said his son Leroy.

Mr. Brown was a head usher at St. Fran­cis of As­sisi Catholic Church and “woke up at 3 o’clock ev­ery day to read his Bi­ble,” said Leroy Brown.

He was a good sport when peo­ple asked him about the 1973 Jim Croce song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” about a 6- foot- 4 Chicagoan who’s “the bad­dest man in the whole damned town.”

“He didn’t par­tic­u­larly like the song,” said Claar, who nev­er­the­less some­times got DJs to play it to get a rise out of his friend.

Mr. Brown is also sur­vived by an­other son, Jef­frey, and five grand­chil­dren. Vis­i­ta­tion is sched­uled 2 to 6 p. m. Thurs­day at Bol­ing­brook’s St. Fran­cis of As­sisi church, with a prayer ser­vice there from 6: 30 to 8: 30 p. m. He is to lie in state at the church from 9 a. m. un­til a 10 a. m. fu­neral Mass Fri­day. Burial will fol­low at Hill­crest Ceme­tery.

Leroy Brown served in the Army Spe­cial Forces — the Green Berets.

Flags flew at half- staff in Bol­ing­brook after the death of Leroy Brown, a deputy mayor and vil­lage trustee who was a se­cu­rity com­man­der at the Sears Tower un­til he re­tired in 2006. | PRO­VIDED PHOTOS

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