New: Doug Brown, 1939-2013

Tuesday September 24, 2013 - 12:53:00 PM

Doug Brown, machinist, musician, political activist, and member of a large and loving family died at home in Berkeley early in the morning of September 6, 2013, nearly six years after having been diagnosed with an astrocytoma. He was 73 years old. 

Doug, who lived in Berkeley for over 50 years, was a machinist by trade. Wherever he worked, at machine shops from San Francisco and Berkeley to the molecular biology department at UC Berkeley, Doug kept his political consciousness in the forefront. Early in his career Doug worked at a machine shop which was doing cutting edge work in liquid chromatography. Recalling those days, Doug’s friend and former coworker at the shop, Arthur Holden, remembers Doug’s leadership when the company received a work order from the then apartheid government in South Africa to use a device the shop had developed. Joining together the workers approached management to insist they reject the order. Holden says, “Management was more fearful of worker insubordination than appalled by the moral issue of apartheid.” A group of workers, including Doug, were fired. 

In the early 1970s Doug worked as a backyard car mechanic and was cofounder of the first van conversion shop at the Center for Independent Living (CIL) later in the 1970s . In the 1990s, Doug and a group of coworkers at Cal, founded the University Professional and Technical Employees (UPTE) union. Doug served as president of Local 1 for many years. He also served on the first UPTE bargaining team, and was a shop steward representing dozens of employees in grievances and arbitrations. Reflecting on Doug’s work Libby Sayre, another of the cofounders, said, “Doug was a lifelong, dedicated union activist, and his contributions to the labor movement and to our Union are enduring. He fought tirelessly to make the world a better place for working people in the US, in Central America, and the world. His life is testimony to the ability of one person to make positive change happen. He was my friend and inspiration for 25 years. “ 

Doug’s political activism spanned many decades and movements. In the early 60’s Doug and his wife Gail worked with East Bay Friends of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), an organization which raised funds and supplies for the civil rights workers in the South. In the early 1970s he worked with disabled students at Cal in the formative days of the disability rights movement prior to the establishment of CIL. In 1976 Doug and Gail joined with others to collectively purchase the house where the Grassroots newspaper, the Berkeley Tenants Union and other community organizations had offices. Doug worked on Grassroots from its beginning to end. The Grassroots House is still operational and groups such as CopWatch continue to have offices there. 

Doug was the embodiment of both the local and global activist. At home in Berkeley in the 1980s Doug served on the Public Works Commission as Maudelle Shirek’s appointee. Doug and Gail also worked with TecNica, a local support group which sent delegations and technical aid to the Sandanistas in their struggle to rebuild Nicaragua during the years of the contra attacks. In the 1985 they were part of a delegation that travelled to Nicaragua where Doug worked in a machine shop in the north repairing agricultural machinery. 

In addition to his machinist and political activities Doug was a talented and engaging musician, playing guitar and bass. Music was a lifelong passion. Doug was a member of the Coachmen – a touring folk group- right out of high school. For many years his Sunday mornings would be spent dressed in a tuxedo while playing with old time jazz musicians in a group known as the Mellotones. More recently, as Doug’s illness progressed, in addition to singing, he got pleasure from listening to music, tapping his foot to the beat. Up to the last days of his life Doug would join in singing songs with his family, friends, and caregivers, correcting the lyrics when necessary, 

Doug wove his family life around all of these activities. Doug lived with Gail, his wife of 53 years, and Gene Turitz and Louise Rosenkrantz housemates for 40 years. Together they raised four daughters, Alison and Jenifer Brown, Jeannette McNeil and Sarah Rosenkrantz. And, there are six grandchildren: Tivon and Jamir Anderson Brown, Ariana and Zoe Brown-Bankhead, and Damani and Iniko McNeil. Doug is also survived by three loving sisters, Susheela Farrell, Stephanie Brown, and Betsy Brown and many cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends. 

Out of respect for Doug’s wishes there will not be a public memorial.