Mary Brown spent a lot of years as a member of the county’s school board. It came with a responsibility of making decisions for students throughout Sampson County.
Several candidates will be on the ballot as choices for the Sampson County Board (SCS) of Education, but her name will not be on there. She is not seeking reelection for another term on the board.
“I didn’t want to leave per se, but I felt my time has come,” Brown said. “People will tell you that they know when it’s time to let go. I feel strongly that there needs to be some younger people with new blood, new enthusiasm and new ideas. That reason alone is why I willingly stepped down.”
Brown grew up in the former Riley Town area near Garland, as a member of the Boykin Family. The close-knit family believed in education and created an endowment a few years ago at Sampson Community College (SCC). Before integration, she attended Garland Colored High School and when it closed in 1957, Brown and other students from Harrells and Garland were sent to Clear Run High School.
After graduation, she continued her education at Winston-Salem State University (formerly known as Winston-Salem Teachers College). When she completed her education, Brown became a registered nurse and her first appointment was at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C. and and several hospitals in New York.
In 1975, she returned to Sampson County and worked at the Mary Gran Nursing Center for a year, before continuing her career at SCC as the director of nursing. She became part of a steering committee for the district and PTA president. The committee was formed from a group of citizens who responded to an ad from the superintendent. This sparked Brown’s involvement.
Next, she was appointed the SCS board of education in the late 1980s. Brown was one of the first to integrate the school board, after the appointment.
“I always feel more responsible for others that I do myself,” Brown said about becoming a school leader with duties involving decision making, visiting schools and meeting others.
Growing up in her small town, Brown said the students were taught to be the best. She wanted to do the same for students in Sampson County.
“B-E-S-T,” Brown said. “Those educators drilled that into us.”
A moment she’s really proud of was seeing Dr. Larry M. Bell become the first black superintendent for the school system. Other special moments was attending commencement ceremonies and giving graduates well wishes — something she’s done religiously since joining the board.
“That was always a good thing to see,” Brown said.
Brown also enjoyed watching the Junior ROTC program develop under the leadership of John Blanton. She was involved with the development of several buildings. One of the unfortunate moments was not having anymore in Garland, because of redistricting.
Brown has called the town home for many years. She is a member Volunteers for the Town and Community of Garland, NC; SCC Foundation and the board of directors; leads an advisory committee for the Duplin Sampson Group Homes; attends St. Stephens AME Zion Church; and is a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. Her work also involves helping the Garland Senior Center.
When it comes to education, she plans to stay in touch with principals and help students with career decisions, while researching scholarship opportunities.
“I have that I have a lot of knowledge that I can pass on through mentoring and counseling to help these kids,” Brown said.
It’s help she wants to provide for students all over Sampson County, not just the Union District which provides education to students in Garland.
“My concern was always for the total school system,” she said about choices that involved safety. “My decisions were based on the priority of needs. I kept that uppermost in my thinking.”
Looking back, Brown said her time on the board was a journey of purpose, passion and perseverance.
“I was focused, I have a love for the children and people in general. I felt that I must had a little bit of perseverance since I hung in there for such a long time. I hope I was effective.
”You get some positive feedback, but there is no perfection,” said Brown, “but at least I worked towards doing the best that I could.”
Former board member Sonya Powell said Brown is an amazing woman. Powell said she’s also a mentor and inspiration. They became close friends.
“She taught me the importance of being on time, having a good work ethic and valuing each and every child in Sampson County as a board member,” Powell said. “I have the makings of an excellent board member becuase of Mary Brown and I regret we will not serve another term together.”
Powell said she’ll be missed and said she’ll continue her love of people in other areas. Superintendent Dr. Eric Bracy added that the retirement is painful and a true loss for the school district. Bracy said she was a wonderful supporter of all students of Sampson County Schools and advocate for staff members.
“She is a consensus builder who was always concerned about stewardship of public money and developing and implementing policies to advance student achievement,” Bracy said. “She will be missed, but her legacy will live on for years to come.”
Reach Chase Jordan Chase Jordan at 910-249-4617. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd and like us on Facebook.