John Shearer: Remembering When Wes Brown Sr. Looked Back On His Life

Wednesday, April 8, 2020 - by John Shearer

When I was an avid teenage golfer in the 1970s, I would occasionally run into Wes Brown Sr. either while he was helping administer some kind of junior tournament or while he was working at the Moccasin Bend Golf Course.


I never knew the latter was not his full-time job, as he always seemed to be there when I was playing on the Baylor golf team during the spring season and we would practice there.


He reminded me a little of a public school coach – slightly congenial but also somewhat serious.

I also remember that his younger son, Jeff, was a young junior golf phenom close to my age and would also go on to be the McCallie quarterback.


I later realized Wes had enjoyed a distinguished golfing career of his own that included winning the prestigious Tennessee State Amateur in 1948.


In later years after I started writing for, I would occasionally get nice emails from him, and maybe once or twice I called him for his perspective on a story I was writing. I remember that after Tiger Woods was making news in 2009 about his personal problems and marriage breakup, I called Wes to get his memories of playing with Tiger Woods and Tiger’s father at Moccasin Bend back in 1991 when Tiger had been eliminated from the U.S. Amateur.


Around 2012 or so, Wes emailed me and asked me to put together a brief biography of his life for his personal and family collection. He also wanted me to help him get started on a rough draft of his future obituary, which I did.


He let me borrow his old scrapbook or two, and it was fascinating to me looking at them.


I occasionally corresponded with him via email after that, and actually ran into him again in person when I was covering the 2013 auction of the Valleybrook Golf Club, and he was attending simply out of personal interest.


After hearing of his unfortunate passing recently, I pulled out the draft of the roughly 4,000-word personal history I had written for him. Since I don’t think he would have minded, I have included it below with only minor editing and updating.


* * * * *


A Biographical Look at Wes Brown Sr.’s Life:


Before his death on March 31 at the age of 90, Wesley Gregory Brown Sr. had enjoyed a successful and happy life in the insurance and business fields. He had also experienced some athletic accomplishments as a youth in various sports and as a golfer throughout his life.


It all began when he was born on Sept. 11, 1929, in Chattanooga. His father, Edward Brown Sr., was the general agent of the Penn-Mutual Life Insurance Co., and Wes was named for a man from Memphis his father was traveling with on business during the birth.


“The man from Memphis stopped for dinner before boarding a train for Quebec with my father when suddenly, after dinner, my mother, Dorothy Gregory Brown, said, ‘Will you gentlemen excuse me while I go upstairs and have a baby,’ ” remembered Wes.


“Panic initially set in but subsided as my mother asked, ‘What will we name this new little boy?’ Later my father wired from Canada to name him Wesley after his Memphis friend.”


Wes grew up with six brothers and sisters in the family home at 1211 Dallas Road in North Chattanooga. The oldest was Edward E. Jr., who was 11 years Wes’ senior. The others, in order of age, were Dorothy G., Thomas Jackson, Allan G., Wes, Lewis A., and Mary Alice “Fi Fi.”


As Wes reached school age, he enrolled at Normal Park Elementary, where he graduated from sixth grade in 1941. He then enrolled at McCallie School, where he quickly became known as a good young athlete. As a seventh grader, he played five sports – football, basketball, baseball, track and golf.


During that year, he also enjoyed such achievements as being involved in all three touchdowns in a victory over the Baylor Mites, winning the 75-yard dash for his class at the Baylor Relays, and taking part in the Mid-South golf tournament.


He particularly showed golf promise throughout his time as a McCallie student. He recalled making a hole-in-one on No. 17 while playing in the 1943 Signal Mountain Invitational with Helen Hampton, the only female ever to play in the tournament.


Wes also won the 1944 Mid-South tournament and citywide prep tournament, and broke through to win the Tennessee Junior Amateur in 1946 as a 16-year-old at Richland Country Club in Nashville.


Also in 1946, he won the prestigious Southern Interscholastic Tournament at his home course -- the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club – and won the Mid-South for a second time. As a result of the three wins, he was referred to that year as a triple golf champion. In 1945, he had finished as runner-up in the Mid-South Tournament.


He also continued to excel in other sports as he entered the high school grades at McCallie. In football he became known as a standout punter and ball carrier while wearing No. 57. As a senior, he helped the Blue Tornado under coach Buck Flowers to a successful 9-1 record.


His success that year, however, did not come without some adversity. In the third game at Sewanee Military Academy, he suffered a concussion. But the injury did have a nice ending, Wes remembered. “I woke up the next morning with a beautiful, freckle-faced nurse peering over me who gave a kiss on my forehead,” he said.


Wes overcame the injury and finished with a productive season overall. As an interesting footnote to the season, playing for Red Bank in McCallie’s 26-7 win later in the year was future Blue Tornado coach Ralph “Pete” Potter, whom Wes would later help bring as coach to McCallie in 1973.


A punt return by Wes for a touchdown against T.M.I. for a 33-28 win was another thrill of the season.


By the time of his senior year, Wes was playing football, basketball and golf. He was quarterback on the football team, and co-captain of the basketball team, which won the Mid-South title his senior year under first-year coach Con Davis.


The team, which had only three regular season losses, came back to defeat Baylor in the finals of the Mid-South tournament. Wes’ performance in the game prompted a letter to the family from Baylor football coach and business manager “Humpy” Heywood, who congratulated Wes on his “fine competitive spirit” and said he was a great sportsman and a pleasure to watch perform.


Wes also made the Chattanooga Times Area All-Star team in basketball.


By the time he was a senior golfer, Wes was continuing to develop quite a reputation for his skills. Veteran News-Free Press staff writer Austin White said before the Rotary Club’s eighth annual Southern Prep tournament at Chattanooga Golf and Country Club in 1947, “Brown, one of the most promising young mashie maulers to spring up from Chattanooga in many a moon, was the man to beat.” Although Wes did not win that tournament, he left with quite a prep tournament record and his McCallie team won the Mid-South championship.


Wes also did well in academics, leadership activities and the military curriculum that was in place at the school at the time. He was elected sophomore senator at McCallie and day student representative as a senior. The Senate was an honor system organization that handled honor violations.


In the military curriculum with which he was involved all six years at McCallie, he served as cadet major his senior year. He was also a battalion commander and was selected “Best Military Officer” by the school yearbook, the Pennant, and was president of Keo Kio, a senior leadership organization.


At the McCallie Class Day exercises his senior year, Wes was named along with classmate Buster Humphreys as the co-recipients of the Chester Stephens athletic medal for being the best athletes. Wes also won the Campbell Award for leadership being runner-up for the top award, the Grayson Medal.  He also gave the prayer that closed the long weekend of commencement activities in late May of 1947, during which classmate Walker Casey Jr., who had died on April 18, 1947, was remembered.


Wes was also a member of the Senate during at least one semester during each of the previous five years.


He also was able to enjoy some fun at McCallie, including attending the Keo-Kio dance with date Barbara Miller and the McCallie Monogram Club Dance. Miss Miller attended Chattanooga High and sang in the chorus. For the Finals he escorted Amelia Goar of Nashville, he recalled.


Wes said he thoroughly enjoyed his time at McCallie. “The McCallie experience taught me discipline through the military program, honor to self and others through the Honor System, loyalty to friends, teammates, school in sports and academic preparation for college and life’s future pursuits,” he said. “I loved it.“


As Wes began trying to pick a college during the spring of his senior year in 1947, he was offered a scholarship to Washington and Lee, where his father had been quite an athlete. John Grant from the Grant-Patten Milk Co. and a University of Virginia alumnus, meanwhile, wrote Cavalier backfield coach William Dudley saying he thought Wes could make the football, basketball and golf teams at U.Va.


Art Lewis from W&L invited Wes to a football tryout, while Vanderbilt basketball coach Ted Hornback encouraged him to take part in the Tennessee-Kentucky high school all-star basketball game.


Wes ended up going to Washington & Lee.


In June 1947, after graduating from McCallie, Wes won the Tennessee Junior tournament for the second year in a row, beating Jimmy Goostree of Clarksville, 5 and 4, at the Woodmont Club in Nashville. Goostree later served as the head trainer at the University of Alabama for many years under football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.


Wes also played in the second annual National Jaycee Junior Amateur golf championship staged by the National Jaycees at Mt. Hawley Country Club in Peoria, Ill., and was medalist going into the match play. Longtime McCallie coach and teacher Chalmers McIlwaine and Wes’ father sent him congratulatory Western Union telegrams.


He also won the first Sandy Summers golf tournament for juniors at Signal Mountain Country Club by 13 strokes.


In the spring of 1948, the long-hitting Wes – who was still only 18 years old and was now a student at W&L – won the Tennessee State Amateur, the first Chattanoogan since decorated amateur Lew Oehmig 11 years before. He defeated University of North Carolina football player Bob Cox from Memphis, 4 and 3, over 36 holes in front of 1,000 fans at his home course, the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. The match had been tied after 29 holes, but Brown won the next four to close out the match.


For years afterward, even until recent years, he enjoyed attending the Masters-like past champions dinner held at the state amateur every year, he said.


Wes remembers not only that 1948 tournament well, but also what happened to him shortly afterward as concerns over his father’s health problems and having to visit him in the hospital briefly overcame him.


“During the weekend of winning the State Am, my father was having a serious operation in the Oscher Clinic in New Orleans,” he recalled. “And when I visited my father in the hospital on Tuesday after the tournament, I fainted in his room immediately after he said, ‘Hi champ.’ ”


In the men’s city golf tournament at Signal Mountain that year, he also finished tied for third behind runaway winner Willard Miller, who won for the third year in a row.


In 1948, he also won the Jaycee-sponsored Tennessee State Junior Golf Tournament, defeating fellow 18-year-old Billy Ragland, who had attended Choate School in Connecticut.


In 1948, while playing in a college match at Washington and Lee, Wes shot a 31 on the back nine of Prince Georges Country Club on the way to a 68, and helped his team beat the University of Maryland. The back nine score tied a record shot earlier that year by noted professional golfer Bobby Locke in the Capital Open. Also that year, Wes shot the low score of 73 as the Generals easily beat the University of Virginia in a match at the U.Va. course.


He would play as the top golfer for the Generals during his time at the school.


Among those also playing on the W&L golf team about this time were John McKelway, Jack McCormick, Bill Lewis, John Mahan, Shorty Murray, Dave Mann, Jack Bailey, Bill Hall and multi-sport athlete Talbot Trammell, who also was a McCallie product. The coach was Cy Twombly, a former major league pitcher, who struck out Babe Ruth and became a noted golfer and teacher of the game.


Wes also played football some as a halfback for W&L, but a knee injury suffered in the George Washington game in October 1949 curtailed his career. Two years before, he had enjoyed some success on the junior varsity/freshmen team. He caught a 22-yard touchdown pass against Massanutten Military Academy, and caught and threw TD passes in a loss to Newport News Apprentice School.


“My one claim to fame on the W&L football team was tackling All-American Johnny Papit for a six-yard loss on a sweep to my side in the University of Virginia game in 1949,” Wes recalled. “Art Guepe, the Virginia coach, noticed my eagerness to come up quickly from the cornerback position and promptly called for a pass to my area and burned me. But our safety covered for me with a TD-saving tackle.”


As his golf career continued, he reached the semifinals of the Campbell Cup in 1950 at Hot Springs before losing to Gordon Stott, 1 up.


In 1950 as a 21-year-old, he finally won his first Chattanooga city championship. He shot a 74-68-72 at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club to win by nine shots over runner-up Jimmy Wann. He would go on to win the tournament in 1952 and 1960.


During his senior season at W&L in 1951, he closed the golf season with quite a finish after a slow start. He tied for first in the Pine Needles Intercollegiate at Southern Pines, N.C., and won the Virginia State Collegiate tournament for the second year in a row at the Cascades Course at Hot Springs, Va.


He also competed in the Southern Conference tournament, where brother Lew Brown of North Carolina finished fourth behind three Duke golfers. His last year in the tournament, Wes was runner-up, losing by one shot to a former McCallie teammate and Duke player, Louis McLenann.    


W&L presented Wes Brown with the 1951 Collegian Athlete Award in the minor sports category. A W&L write-up announcing the award called him one of the greatest golfers the school had ever seen.


He also enjoyed time for social activities at the college. In 1949, he attended the spring dance with Alice Sanders from Raleigh, while that Thanksgiving, he attended a party and dance with Carolyn McClamrock of Knoxville.


But by August 1950, he was sending a Western Union telegram to a Miss Pocahontas Whitaker of Kinston, N.C., -- his future first wife -- telling her to uncross her fingers, that he shot 74, 68, and 72 and was the Chattanooga city champion. The two also attended the W&L final dance together in 1951. Also shown in a photograph with them at the event was Tommy Lupton.


While at W&L, he was a member of Phi Delta Theta fraternity.


Wes graduated with a bachelor of science in commerce degree in 1951. On hand for the graduation ceremonies were his parents, including his father, W&L alumnus Ed Brown. The elder Mr. Brown had also played for McCallie as well as Chattanooga High, and on Sept. 20, 1953, his 1903 team was honored 50 years after City and Baylor had played in the first prep football game in Chattanooga.


Following graduation from college, Wes soon entered the U.S. Army and was stationed at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. In 1954, he finished second behind Billy Maxwell in the 4th Army Golf Championship there and later played in the All Army tourney that year. He served active duty in the Army from 1952-54 and served in the Tennessee Army National Guard from 1951-59, eventually attaining the rank of captain.


After returning to Chattanooga following his active duty service and becoming involved in the insurance business, he won his second City Championship in 1957 by defeating the always-tough competitor Lew Oehmig on the first playoff hole at Signal Mountain Country Club.


That year as a 28-year-old, he also advanced to the second round of the prestigious U.S. Amateur at The Country Club in Brookline Mass., beating John Gray of Los Angeles, 2 up. During that round, Curtis Person, noted Memphis Senior golfer, while watching the match after the 10th hole, asked Wes, “ ‘How do you stand,’ and received a reply … ‘I’m 6 up.’ Curtis then replied, “Who do you play this afternoon?”


As many golfers have found out over the years, it is never over until it is over, and Wes ended up losing a heartbreaker on the 19th hole in that match in which he was comfortably leading, a disappointment he said he never forgot.


By this time, he and his first wife, Hontas, whom he married in March 1952, had two children. Pocahontas “Honey” and Wes Jr. were born in 1953 and 1956, respectively. Youngest child Jeff was born in January 1959.


In business, Wes became established as an agent for the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co. after his Army active duty career. By the early 1960s, he had served as president of the Chattanooga Association of Life Insurance Underwriters and was a member of the Penn Mutual Top Club and the Million Dollar Round Table.


Wes said he enjoyed following the business career path he did.


“My career in the life insurance business was rewarding, as I had the opportunity to help people achieve some financial goals protecting their families, the small business man building retirement funds for themselves and employees be compensated for helping others,” he said


He was also a member of the board of trustees at McCallie School beginning in his early 30s.


Continuing to set aside time in his then-busy life for his family, Wes and his four brothers celebrated their father’s 70th birthday on Sept. 21, 1958, with a round of golf at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club. As the years would pass, the family would cherish that time even more, as his father died less than a year later -- on May 7, 1959.


His father had enjoyed a successful and multi-faceted career that included being a general agent for the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Co., serving as president of the Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce, and being chairman of the Chamber’s urban renewal committee that was redeveloping the area around Cameron Hill as the new freeway and Olgiati Bridge were being constructed through downtown Chattanooga.


The elder Mr. Brown had also received a law degree and made a huge contribution to the University of Chattanooga as chairman of the campaign to raise money to build the Oak Street stadium, which has since been leveled.


As Wes continued enjoying success as a “million dollar” insurance agent by the time he was 30, he also continued to enjoy competing at golf. In 1960, he won his third City Amateur golf championship by knocking in an eight-foot birdie putt on the 54th hole at Lookout Mountain Golf Club. His scores of 73-71-73 put him one stroke ahead of Jimmy Wann and Vernon Smith.


That same year, he was also named first vice president of the McCallie School Alumni Board.


He also took time to get involved with Republican Party politics about that time, helping Bill Brock get elected to Congress in 1962 and attending the 1964 GOP convention in San Francisco as the Hamilton County GOP finance committee member and director of the Young Republicans Club.


By that time, he and his family were living at 26 Fairhills Drive above what is now Heritage Landing.


In 1966, Wes announced plans to run for the 10th District State Senate seat formerly held by Cartter Patten. He won the Republican primary for the seat and was to face Rep. Tom Harris, a Democrat, in the general election. But after prayerful thought as he began to consider family and work issues, he decided to withdraw from the race.


His press clippings during the 1966 race said he had been a Penn Mutual Life agent since 1951 and, since 1961, a chartered life underwriter, which was the highest educational recognition in the life insurance industry at the time.


In the mid-1960s, Wes also turned his attention toward an additional business opportunity. He became involved as vice president of the group consisting of brother Ed Brown, Merv Pregulman, Jim O’Kelley, Jack and Mack Lonas, brother Jack Brown, and W.H. (Izzy) Smith that leased 156 acres of Moccasin Bend land from the city and county. There, they opened the Moccasin Bend Golf Club in 1965. The lease would last for 40 years, until 2005, when a lease with another firm was signed.


The operation proved productive. For example, in Wes’ scrapbook is a hastily written note to his traveling family from June 29, 1966, just one day after his state Senate candidacy announcement ran in the paper. In it, Wes excitedly reported that 75 greens fees had been bought by noon.


Wes was always a regular fixture at the club helping to oversee it, and in 1991 had an opportunity to play golf there with future pro Tiger Woods, his father Earl and half-brother Kevin while the noted golfer was in Chattanooga for the U.S. Amateur.


In 1971, Wes’ daughter, Pocahontas “Honey” Brown, received the high honor of serving as May queen for her senior class at Girls Preparatory School. His sons, Wes Jr. and Jeff, went to McCallie and were standout members of the McCallie football teams. Wes Jr. was named All-City at wide receiver, and, three years later, Jeff was a quarterback and was also a standout junior golfer in Chattanooga.


The Browns were also known for their goal post in their backyard, which Wes constructed as a Christmas present to his sons in 1971. According to Wes, the goal post proved to be a good training ground for son Jeff, who would go on to kick a winning field goal in one game for McCallie.


Wes Jr lives in Franklin, Tenn., and has worked in insurance, Jeff resides in Charlotte and has practiced real estate law, and oldest child Honey Doramus lives in Nashville


In 1972, while both his sons were at McCallie, Wes was involved in the construction of a new football stadium at McCallie School as chairman of the athletic committee of the school’s board of trustees.


The new stadium was to replace the old McCallie Patten Field and was to be moved a few hundred feet toward McCallie Avenue and Alumni Field, allowing large spectator seating on the Kyle Street side. The west, or home stands, were included a new concrete grandstand replacing the old bleachers. A new press box was included, as well as a new and wider track.


In 1969 and ’70, Wes was also chairman of the Sports Committee for the Chamber of Commerce, which conducted an awards night for the best young and old athletes in the Chattanooga area.


The committee also presented him with its “Service to Youth Award.”


In the early 1970s, as the YMCA began an effort to build a North River YMCA facility off Hixson Pike near DuPont Elementary School, Wes served as chairman of the neighborhood fund drive branch.


He helped start the Gra-Y tackle football league, and in 1973, one of the football fields at the North River YMCA was named in his honor.


In 1970, he received the Provident Life and Accident Group Life Sales Award.


He also continued to stay active in golf in the 1970s both as a player and as a volunteer, in addition to continuing to help run Moccasin Bend.


In 1972, he tied for third in the Tennessee State Amateur at Lookout Mountain which Ed Brantley won.


In 1976, he finished tied for first in the inaugural Moccasin Bend Invitational, but lost in a playoff. That same year, he and Bill Ragland, who was also a past State Amateur champion, won the Member-Member at the Chattanooga Golf and C.C.


At age 50 Wes qualified and played in the U.S.G.A. Senior Open in 1980 at Oakland Hills C.C. in Birmingham, Michigan.


Wes was also active in the Chattanooga District Golf Association, serving as president, and was also a longtime board member of the Tennessee Golf Association. He was also involved in the USGA’s Public Links for 25 years, conducting the local qualifying for the national tournament. The latter work resulted in his receiving the Ike Grainger Award.


His interest in golf continued throughout his life. He won the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club regular club championship in 1990, despite being over 60 years old.


“Being involved in golf for a lifetime started with my father dropping me, and brothers Allan and Lew off at the Chattanooga Golf and Country Club with a sandwich and a nickel for a Double Cola as he went to work in the mornings,” Wes recalled in 2013. “We learned the game there playing and caddying for the members and older brothers Ed and Jack.


“From those early days I loved the competition, followed the local tournaments and was motivated watching Neil White from Memphis win the Southern Amateur in 1939 at the Country Club. Golf has been a most important part of my life with some victories and some losses while meeting and playing with many of the game’s best. There are only a few days I wish the results were different.”


He had also been a member of First-Centenary United Methodist Church over the years.


After he moved to Horse Creek Farms in the Mountain Creek area at the foot of Signal Mountain in 2007, he built a short game facility in his backyard with a green and 4 tees. He confessed that his biggest weakness during his career was the short game.


With his second wife, June Hocker Brown, whom he married in 1987, they continued to enjoy life there with their dogs, Hocker and JW. 


They also began spending several weeks a year at their second home in The Villages in Central Florida between Ocala and Orlando.


Death came peacefully at his home six months after reaching age 90.


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