“It is well with my soul (though my body is not so great)” were undoubtedly among the last words uttered by Nancy Brown, for those were the words most comforting to her throughout her almost three-year cancer journey. Born September 3, 1942, in Chicago, Illinois, she died on March 9, 2020, in Kansas City, Missouri.
The second daughter of Herman and Katherine (Gralund) Becker, she lived with sister Katherine (Becky) and younger brother Alan in the Chicago area until their father’s death in 1948. Her mother remarried and in 1949 the family moved to Waukegan, Illinois, and welcomed another child, sister Linda.
Nancy graduated from Zion-Benton Township High School (Zion, Illinois) and Barat College (Lake Forest, Illinois), and attended graduate school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City. A shy introvert in her youth, if anyone told her she would have become a public official, social activist, and global spokesperson/missionary she would have laughed. Nancy would be the first to say she was an ordinary person who lived an extraordinary life (the title of the autobiography she hoped to write but never got to because she was too busy living).
Shaped early by a strong spiritual foundation, her passion was to make a difference in the world and to give more than she received, which became a driving force in her life. If asked what she valued most in her life she would immediately say faith, family, and friends, and she lived her faith among family and friends in myriad ways.
Nancy’s life exemplifies service in countless ways, through her family and community, through church and the Methodist denomination, through political life and public service, through leading countless mission trips to the Navajo Nation, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, Swaziland, Lesotho, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia, most recently to Zambia in 2018 with a team of 10 friends. Networking was central to who she was and Nancy received great joy when her friends became friends.
Nancy married Myron Brown (a research veterinarian) in 1969 and they were blessed with two sons, Derek and Jason. Living in Riverwoods, Illinois, Nancy served the community on the zoning board, planning commission, and as village trustee and village treasurer. When the family moved in 1980 from Illinois to the Blue Valley community in Stanley, Kansas, she instantly became involved with her sons’ schools and her neighborhood homes association, as well as the Blue Valley community, beginning with a social-justice issue involving unfair sewer assessments by the county to the rural township residents. She led the charge to sue the county, though she did not live in the sewer district, and became known as a strong advocate for Blue Valley, cofounding the Blue Valley Community Council, Blue Valley and the Arts, and the Blue Valley Historical Society.
She was appointed and later elected to the office of Oxford Township zoning board member and township trustee. Additionally, she founded the Kansas Association of Townships and served for many years on the National Center for Small Communities and Association of Towns and Townships (chairing the Federal and State Affairs Committee). Known for her passion, activism and leadership skills – and particularly for championing the rights of all people – she was asked by her Blue Valley friends to run for the Kansas House of Representatives in 1984 (four years after moving to Blue Valley). She became the first female in Johnson County to be elected to the Kansas House, where she served with honor and integrity for 10 years, a time during which one could work on a bipartisan basis to have a positive impact on public policy.
Among the highlights of her decade of state service was working across party lines to enact legislation for the good of all people regardless of affiliation. Along with democrat state representative Gary Blumenthal, she co-sponsored a televised program for several years during the legislative session at Johnson County Community College called “Past Week in Topeka.” In addition, Nancy wrote a year-long weekly newspaper column called “Capitol Comments” which is currently being compiled as a Blue Valley historical document.
Serving the State of Kansas with distinction, she chaired the Kansas House of Representatives Local Government Committee where she was able to change state law to allow the formation of the Blue Valley Recreation Commission, one of her proudest accomplishments for the benefit of her cherished community. Known as the “mother” of the commission, a memorial to Nancy and Myron’s beloved son Jason (1973-2007) graces the entryway to the Blue Valley Recreation facility.
In addition, Nancy chaired the Kansas state emergency response commission and the community development block grant program, and served as a board member on a number high-level boards and commissions, to include the governor’s commission on autism, the state emergency medical service board, the state trauma task Force, the governor’s flooding task force, the education blue highways committee, the Koch Crime Commission, Outside Connection (a support group for inmates and their families), and the Interstate Nuclear Waste Compact.
Nancy became actively involved in the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), serving as chair of the State-Local Tribal Relations Committee, and as a member of the State-Local Relations Committee and Fiscal Affairs Working Group. She was a co-founder of the Women’s Legislative Network of the National Conference of State Legislatures when a sitting president said there would never be a female NCSL president. Nancy wrote the bylaws, became its executive director, and witnessed the election of the NCSL’s first female president, Senator Karen McCarthy of Missouri.
On the national level, she was asked by Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole to serve on the advisory board of the National Hazardous Materials Transportation Advisory Council, and she ultimately became chair of the Emergency Response Working Group. She became vice-chair of the National Working Group of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Act of 1990, known as the Alliance, and was asked to consult on the Office of Technology Assessment study for the transportation of hazardous materials. Also a board member of the Intelligent Transportation Systems Technical Advisory Group of the National Governor’s Association, she was ultimately appointed to serve as an advisory board member of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) which was one of her highest honors in public service.
Nancy authored numerous publications and was the recipient of multiple awards at the local, state, and national levels, but the most meaningful awards were the rewards she received serving others. What better way to serve than through the religious community which she so loved. The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection was a new church started in Blue Valley in the early 90s and Nancy and family joined the new young pastor and his family (Reverend Adam and LaVon Hamilton) in serving the Blue Valley Community and its environs.
Nancy’s influence is evident throughout the church, where she was one of the longest-serving members (and chair) of the Administrative Council, and was also a member of the executive building committee. She chaired the visionary team, mission team, strategic planning team, and was member of the leadership team, missions steering team, prayer ministry team, and veterans ministry team, and served on a multitude of committees over the years including the racial reconciliation group, allies for racial justice, and on the board of United Methodist Women, chairing the social justice committee. Nancy chaired the first leadership summit at Resurrection and, until her illness, served as a lay delegate to the United Methodist Great Plains Conference.
A lay leader and Stephen Minister, she served beyond the local church at the conference and national levels. Nancy was the chair of the conference visionary team, and served as a member of the volunteer in missions team, the global missions team, the disaster response team, the sexual ethics team, the sexual ethics investigative team, the bishop’s leadership team, the transition merger team, the mercy and justice team, the connecting council, and she also served as a delegate to jurisdictional and general conference. At the National Level, Nancy was an Ambassador and Advisory Board member of Healthy Families, Healthy Planet and a Board member of the Commission on the Status and Role of Women. A recent highlight was serving as chair of the strategic planning team of Saint Paul School of Theology, a United Methodist Seminary.
Nancy wrote the curriculum for Safe Gatherings, a youth protection program for those working with children and youth in the church and its environs, and taught the course throughout the conference for several years before obtaining a grant for an online mandatory program for all workers in the conference. This successful program has now gone national and serves other denominations as well.
Throughout the decades of service, however, Nancy’s passion remained serving the vulnerable through mission programs. As one of the first mission chairs at Resurrection, Nancy co-authored the training curriculum for mission teams (and disaster relief) and laid the foundation for serving in the Navajo Nation, Russia, Ukraine, Honduras, and numerous countries in Africa. The lives she touched through training, leading teams, planting seeds, and networking with others remains today and will continue through the many lives touched by her ministry.
Nancy’s journey was eased by family and friends who walked alongside her in this difficult journey, including her amazing “stretcher bearers” who accompanied her to chemotherapy, doctors’ appointments, and visits to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. Her faith community was ever present with meals, cards, encouraging notes, words, visits, and phone calls always reminding her of God’s love. Her brother Alan and his wife Jane visited at least monthly during the last year of her life, and were with her almost constantly during her final months, allowing her to stay in her treasured home much longer than she would have otherwise.
Nancy credits her husband Myron and children Derek and Jason for the sacrifices they made while she was serving others. Preceded in death by Myron (1937-2012) and beloved son Jason (1973-2007), she is survived by son Colonel Derek Brown (US Army) and wife Gretchen, and grandchildren Elijah, Lucy, and Eleanore, of San Antonio, Texas; and daughter-in-law Lynn Brown and granddaughter Marli, of Kansas City Missouri. Along with immediate family, mourning her loss is sister Katherine Sander, brother Alan Becker (wife Jane), sister Linda Knabel (husband David), and their families, including beloved nieces and nephews and great nieces and nephews too numerous to mention.
The celebration of life originally scheduled for 3 April has been postponed to a date to be determined.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to one of Nancy's cherished African programs, Bwafwano Care Providers (http://bit.ly/Bwafwano), giving hope and a future to Zambia’s most vulnerable children and youth, or to Saint Paul School of Theology (913-253-5000) to fund an endowed scholarship in Nancy’s name for students interested in pursuing social justice ministry.