January 17, 1931 - July 28, 2023
Like Benjamin Franklin, with whom she shared a birthday, Diane Dickinson Brown believed in education, democracy, and service to her community and country. Diane died July 28, 2023, in Chapel Hill. A reception and remembrance of her life will be held September 2, 2023, at 2 pm in the Social Hall at Carol Woods Retirement Community.
Diane was born in Allentown, Pennsylvania on January 17, 1931. Her family moved to Massachusetts in the 1940s when her father took a job for the War effort, but she maintained a lifelong affection for her Pennsylvania Dutch roots and happy Allentown childhood.
Diane’s parents, Lloyd and Leila Dickinson, encouraged her education; she received a full scholarship to attend Lake Erie College in Painesville, Ohio. In Painesville, she met a young civil engineer, James. C. (Jim) Brown. They married on the Fourth of July 1953. By April 1954 their daughter was born and, as a ten-week-old infant, attended the graduation ceremony where her mother received her Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude.
Diane joined the League of Women Voters two years later, her interest in voter service encouraged by a favorite political science professor. Her affiliation and devotion to the League lasted her lifetime. In an interview honoring her fifty-year-plus membership, she recalled joining in 1956, now with two babies at home, “I needed the League to keep my sanity.” By 1961 there were five Brown children- one daughter and four sons. And as Diane’s family grew so did her League involvement. When the family considered a move to Chapel Hill, the presence of a League chapter was a decisive factor.
Jim accepted an appointment in 1962 as Assistant (later Associate) Professor of Environmental Science at the UNC School of Public Health where he taught the International Program in Sanitary Engineering Design, sponsored by USAID. By 1965 the program took the family to Lima, Peru for two years, where the seven Browns had a “great experience,” Diane later recounted.
On her return to Chapel Hill, Diane resumed and accelerated her volunteering with the League and its various voter registration and education projects, serving in leadership roles both locally and statewide. She also volunteered with her children’s PTAs, taught English to international students’ wives, and undertook other community initiatives, especially those involving support for senior citizens and racial integration and understanding. (And she learned to speed-read in her ‘spare time’!)
Her lifelong interest in government and democracy led her to an appointment to the Orange County Board of Elections, serving most of her 15 years as chair. Diane also served as the state-wide President of the North Carolina LWV in the 1980s, a role that led her to appointments to a number of local and state advisory boards and commissions. In 1992 she received the Governor’s Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service.
While she may have been “Madam President” to some, to a generation of young athletes in the 1970s she was “Mama Brown,” one of Chapel Hill’s original “soccer moms.” Her boys became interested in the game while living in Peru. Back in North Carolina, there were few outlets for such a little-known sport, but her sons and their friends, plus some recent UNC students, found one another and began to practice, play, and coach. From this came Chapel Hill High School’s first soccer team and Rainbow Soccer, the town’s original community soccer program. She raised money, bought equipment, housed visiting players, and drove the teams to their games in her station wagon, affectionately dubbed “Big Blue.”
As her children grew older, Diane began her professional career. She was the founding executive director of the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), ran the community’s Meals on Wheels program, and became a trained mediator for the Carrboro-based Dispute Settlement Center, a non-profit organization that provided mediation services to the Orange County court system.
She retired at age 74 and moved to Carol Woods Continuing Care Retirement Community in 2007.
Diane was pre-deceased by her husband in 1989 and is survived by her five children: Rebecca (Becky) Brown Rogers, Michael Brown (Roxanne Henderson), Paul Brown (Susan Lindsay) all of Chapel Hill; Christopher Brown (Sue DeWalt) of Birmingham, AL; Peter Brown (Beverly Weaver) of Waynesville, NC, and her grandsons Joe, Kit, Graham, and Sam Brown.
Messages of condolence may be sent to: The Brown Family c/o Rebecca Rogers, 102 Copperline Drive, Apt. B, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.
In lieu of flowers donations in Diane’s memory may be made to:
League of Women Voters of Orange, Durham, and Chatham Counties (LWVODC)
PO Box 3397
Chapel Hill NC 27515-3397
The Lake Erie College Fund
Lake Erie College – Box 352 391 W. Washington St. Painesville, OH 44077 https://www.lec.edu/alumni/ways-to-give/
Carol Woods Charitable Foundation
750 Weaver Dairy Road
Chapel Hill, NC 27514. (919) 968-4511
Or a charity of your choice that supports education, voter participation, or community volunteerism.