Tommy Brown was a missionary who became an Atlanta-based administrator of missionaries and wrote books about missionary history.
Along the way, he learned a lot about countries where missionaries go.
“My father came of age in America’s Asian century. His life spanned a continent and an ocean, from Atlanta to China and Korea,” said Mary Bullock of Decatur, former president of Agnes Scott College.
“Dad lived and worked in Korea for many years, but China was his true love,” she said. “He personally experienced China’s warlord era, the Sino-Japanese War, World War II, China’s civil war, the Korean and Cold wars. He deplored the long interruption in Sino-American relations and became a frequent visitor after the renewal of ties in the 1970s.”
Bullock said her father exemplified the words of John Oxenham’s hymn: “In Christ there is no East nor West, in him no South or North, But one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”
Another former college president echoed Bullock’s words. “Tommy Brown’s life embodied the highest calling of the missionary spirit,” said James Laney, former president of Emory University, also a former U.S. ambassador to South Korea and a onetime missionary there.
“He was a missionary-educator of the highest caliber. He founded what is still a thriving seminary in Gwangju, South Korea, and he played a prominent role in developing the Korean Presbyterian Church’s remarkable vitality,” Laney said.
The Rev. George Thompson “Tommy” Brown, 92, died Tuesday of complications from Parkinson’s disease in the health center of Park Springs seniors community in Stone Mountain, where he resided. A memorial service will be at 3 p.m. Sunday at Decatur Presbyterian Church. A.S. Turner and Sons Funeral Home and Crematory is in charge of arrangements.
Born in Lushan, China, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, Brown was educated in international schools in China and Korea before earning a bachelor’s degree at Davidson College in North Carolina. After serving during World War II as a U.S. Army Signal Corps officer, he went on to get a doctorate from Union Theological Seminary in Richmond.
In 1973 he came to Atlanta to lead the overseas mission operations of what was then the Southern Presbyterian Church. His successor, the Rev. Cliff Kirkpatrick, now teaching at Louisville Presbyterian Seminary, said Brown was an inspiration to him. He was especially impressed with the way Brown smoothed the transition from the hierarchical mission operations of the past to the Presbyterian Church’s current partnerships with Third World-founded and -managed churches.
“The change has led to tremendous growth,” Kirkpatrick said, “with two-thirds of the world’s Presbyterians now living in the global south.”
Brown was the first president of Chinese Connection, a Christian-centered organization that over the past 24 years has provided medical and public health services to those in need in China.
Its executive director, Kathy Call of Pasadena, Calif., said, “I was so grateful that a man of Tommy’s stature and intimate knowledge of China agreed to be our founding president. He led our board with grace and godly wisdom.”
“Perhaps the most notable of our projects during Tommy’s leadership,” Call said, “was the outfitting of two huge mobile surgical clinics for use in the most mountainous areas of China, where doctors had previously struggled to reach the sick. We donated what essentially were two operating rooms on wheels.”
Brown is survived by his wife of 70 years, Mardia Brown; another daughter, Charlotte Hill of Orlando; three sons, George Brown Jr. and Bruce Brown, both of Atlanta, and William Brown of Herndon, Va.; 16 grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.