Frank Brown became a familiar face to many while covering news as a reporter on Omaha television.
He parlayed that appeal and understanding of his community into a seat on the Omaha City Council, where he served from 1997 to 2009. He was known as a force that helped create housing options for the poor.
This week, Brown was remembered as that champion for the turf where he was raised — and as a man dedicated to family and a fan of Marvel comics. He died Thursday at age 65 after a lengthy battle with diabetes and complications from strokes.
“Frank was a strong advocate who cared about his district,” former Omaha Mayor Mike Fahey said. “He was tough when he had to be. He could be stubborn, in a good way. He was very forthright about his positions and tried to get as many things as possible for that district.”
Born and raised in north Omaha, Brown maintained a focus on the streets where he grew up watching his father manage a lounge and his mother work at an ice cream parlor. During interviews over the years, Brown recalled the bustle on North 24th Street as people shopped and mingled. As a teen in the 1960s, he worked odd jobs, including painting and finishing garages and cutting down noxious weeds.
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Later, as a councilman, he was known to use shrewd deal-making tactics to try to restore and improve areas of his youthful stomping grounds. At one point, he got the city to step up repairs on a sewer system that contributed to basement flooding by making passage of a new convention center and arena plan contingent on approval of a new sewer plan.
With many of his constituents distrustful of police, he sought the creation of a controversial new position, an independent auditor to investigate complaints against officers.
Fahey recalled Brown’s push within city government to improve North 24th Street and Love’s Jazz & Arts Center and to reinforce workforce development and job programs.
Brown graduated from Holy Name High School in 1971 and went on to Virginia Union University in Richmond, but he came home early to help care for his sick mother, Lyda Montgomery Brown.
Her death years later, in 2013, “took a big toll” on the youngest of the Brown siblings, said sister Marlene Brown-Gunn of Stone Mountain, Georgia. She said Frank Brown’s health further declined.
Brown-Gunn recalled her brother, who never married or had children, as thoroughly devoted to his hometown and his family.
“We were very close-knit,” she said. “He was a kindhearted person. He tried to help everyone.”
William Gunn recalled his brother-in-law reading often to their son, Christopher, when he was a boy. Frank Brown was a collector of Marvel comics, Gunn said, and the superhero connection was a way to touch base throughout the years for Brown and Christopher, now an adult with his own kids.
After a stint at KFAB radio, Brown spent 17 years as a local TV reporter. Before being elected to the City Council in 1997, he served as executive director of the memorial foundation named after Jimmy Wilson Jr., a police officer killed in the line of duty.
Paul Koneck, who served with Brown on the City Council, said Brown’s fact-oriented reporting background shined through as a public official.
“Frank was a strong voice on the City Council. He was very trustworthy; he kept his word,” said Koneck, now an Omaha firefighter. “And the thing about Frank that helped on the City Council was that he was fact-oriented. He checked information that was given to him. ... I really respected that about Frank.”
Koneck recalled Brown pressing to form a coalition on the council to create a majority “to move issues.”
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Dennis “Whitey” Mixan, 62, of Bellevue was a “terrible” high school wrestler but ended up the father of four state champions. And while Mixan loved to play guitar, other amateur guitarists sometimes outperformed him for a spot in Friday night jam sessions. But he kept playing and even built his own guitars, said his son Mike Mixan of Omaha. Whitey Mixan died March 26. Read more
Businessman and philanthropist Lee Sapp, who co-founded the Sapp Bros. travel center chain with his three brothers, died March 30. He was 90. Sapp and his brothers Bill, Ray and Dean started the Sapp Bros. chain with a gas station on a plot of land at Interstate 80 and Nebraska Highway 50 in 1971. Read more
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Cherrie Anderson was a pioneer who brought aerobic dancing to Omaha in the 1970s. Her dance studio, the Cherrie Anderson School of Music and Dance, has taught generations of children. Anderson died on April 5. Services were held April 10. Read more
As a boy in California, Yoshio Manuel Matsunami gave up more than three years of freedom to pay for the sins of his father’s native country, Japan. Matsunami graduated from high school in 1945 at the Topaz War Relocation Center in central Utah, an internment camp built in 1942 to house people of Japanese descent. He later moved to Omaha, owned jewelry shops in the area for 30 years, and raised a family of six children. He died April 6, of kidney failure, at age 91. Read more
Frank Matthews, a former president of the Omaha Bar Association, enjoyed a distinguished law career of 40 years. He and the former Helen Spencer, his wife of 67 years, also raised eight children in the Dundee neighborhood. Matthews, 97, died April 12. Read more
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William “Bill” G. Campbell IV, who co-founded in Omaha the firm that’s now known nationally as Kutak Rock, died April 13. He was 84. The longtime attorney is remembered for his sharp legal mind and mentorship of young lawyers, but also for being a renaissance man who loved to read, hunt and cook a good meal. Read more
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Seemingly boundless energy and a deep devotion to his Catholic faith were the hallmarks of Abbot Raphael Walsh’s service to the community. Walsh, who died of heart disease on April 25 at age 92, was in charge of Elkhorn Mount Michael School and the Benedictine Abbey there from 1966 to 1989. Read more
For more than a decade, Cecilia Olivarez Huerta advocated for the Latino community in Nebraska, including on a project to document the history and traditions of the community in the state. Olivarez Huerta died Thursday, May 2. She was 74. Read more
Frank Brown became a familiar face to many while covering news as a reporter on Omaha television. He parlayed that appeal and understanding of his community into a seat on the Omaha City Council, where he served from 1997 to 2009. He was known as a force that helped create housing options for the poor. He died May 2 at age 65. Read more
No one ever complained about any of the meals Fran Held put on the table at the Stephen Center homeless shelter. Held began working at the shelter near 27th and Q Streets when it opened in 1992 and was in the kitchen when former director Del Bomberger arrived in 2002. She was still there when he retired in 2015. Held, 95, died May 3. Read more
Officers from 200 law enforcement agencies across Nebraska and the United States gathered in Scottsbluff on June 27 to honor the first Nebraska State Patrol trooper to die in the line of duty in 20 years. Trooper Jerry Smith, 51, of Scottsbluff died June 20. Smith had been on patrol near Bridgeport when his vehicle was struck nearly head-on by another driver. Read more
Gene Morris, former publisher of the McCook Gazette, was always “lifting up the people on his staff,” said Sharyn Skiles, the Gazette’s current publisher. Morris, 80, died June 21 at the Kearney Regional Medical Center of double pneumonia and heart complications. Read more
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Jordan Stevens said his daughter Macy Stevens came into the world with a broken heart, but that didn’t stop her from "living a life beyond her years.” The 20-year-old, remembered by her family as a lover of music and someone who cared for animals, was surrounded by her family when she died July 12 from congestive heart failure. Read more
As 11-year-old Tessa Perez was taken into donor surgery on , medical professionals lined the hallway at Children’s Hospital & Medical Center for a “hero walk.” Tessa, who suffered a fatal allergic reaction, was the first organ donor at the Omaha hospital to have received this recognition. She was pronounced brain dead after suffering an allergic reaction to peanuts and going into anaphylactic shock. Read more
Among that group was Marc Kraft, who said Brown also brought to city government circles “an awareness about the disparity in how we treat different people.”
He recalled a time when Brown challenged a city official who assumed that a caller was black. “Frank asked, ‘Tell me, what does black sound like?’ I’m glad he brought that out.”
Kraft and Koneck described Brown as both passionate and stubborn.
“There is nothing wrong with either,” Kraft said. “There are times when you have to be one or the other or both.”
Former Rep. Brad Ashford, a former executive director of the Omaha Housing Authority, described Brown as a champion of the poor.
During most of his council tenure, Brown held leadership positions at the housing authority. He was appointed to the OHA board in 1998 and stepped down in 2006 to take a paid position as the first-ever director of the authority’s nonprofit arm, Housing in Omaha.
“He was always there for people in need, people in poverty, people in public housing,” Ashford said.
Brown had his constituents in mind, Ashford said, despite sometimes rubbing others the wrong way. He recalled, for example, Brown “probably violating some rules” by arranging to buy air conditioning units for elderly, low-income residents during a heat spell before the purchase was officially approved.
Brown was preceded in death by a sister, his mother and his father, Warren Hugh Brown. He is survived by two siblings. Funeral services will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. at St. Mark Baptist Church at 3616 Spaulding St.
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In May 1997, Frank Brown was elected to his first term as a member of the Omaha City Council. In this March 1998 photo, council members Brown, left, and Subby Anzaldo look at photographs of the area around a proposed police and fire training facility to be built west of Wenninghoff Road.
In June 1997, Brown was elected vice president of the Omaha City Council.
Brown was elected City Council president in June 1998.
Brown served as acting Omaha mayor for four days in July 1998. In this photo from that same month, from left, City Council member Lormong Lo, Mayor Hal Daub and Brown, along with the Miller Park Sun Dawgs, participate in a groundbreaking for the Miller Park Family Aquatics Center.
Brown won re-election to the City Council in May 2001. Here the newly elected council members pose in front of the Legislative Chambers at the City-County Building. Front row, from left: Dan Welch, Chuck Sigerson and Franklin Thompson. Back row, from left: Marc Kraft, Garry Gernandt, Jim Vokal and Frank Brown.
In March 2005, Brown poses questions before the City Council voted unanimously to annex Elkhorn.
In May 2005, Brown was re-elected to the City Council. Here, newly elected or re-elected city officials posed for a portrait. From left, City Council members Chuck Sigerson, Frank Brown, Gary Gernandt and Jim Vokal, Mayor Mike Fahey, and council members Jim Suttle, Dan Welch and Franklin Thompson.
From left, Brown was joined by actor and rapper Ice-T and Pastor Robert J. Hall for the ribbon-cutting at the Charles B. Washington Library in Omaha.