Crime & Courts

February 11, 2012

More than 400 attend memorial for federal judge Wesley Brown, 104

Skyler O’Hara recalled receiving a phone call, just out of law school, from a federal judge in Wichita interviewing law clerks.

Skyler O’Hara recalled receiving a phone call, just out of law school, from a federal judge in Wichita interviewing law clerks.

“Do you know what a senior judge is?” O’Hara remembered Wesley E. Brown asking.

“No,” O’Hara, then 26, told him in 2003.

“Well, when you meet me, you’ll know what it means,” Judge Brown said.

The congregation of about 450 laughed when O’Hara told the story Saturday morning during a memorial for Judge Brown, who served the federal bench in Wichita for 50 years before his death last month at age 104.

Although Judge Brown became known for his longevity, his colleagues remembered him as a man who lived in the present with a fiery passion for his job, a wry sense of humor and an eagerness to keep up with the times.

And there were plenty of times to keep Judge Brown changing.

“He was born four years after the Wright Brothers made the first flight and lived 40 years after man set foot on the moon,” said U.S. Senior District Judge Monti Belot, who also served as a law clerk to Brown.

O’Hara remembered taking her boss, 70 years her senior, to buy his first cellphone at age 94.

“I never knew anyone who lived more in the present than Judge Brown, or who looked forward more to the next day,” added Don Bostwick, who practiced law before Judge Brown, then ate lunch with the district judge three times a week after being appointed as a federal magistrate.

Judge Brown was appointed to the federal district court in 1962 by John F. Kennedy and served until just a few weeks before he died on Jan. 23.

Although Judge Brown was known later in life as a gentle man who joked about his age — saying he never bought unripe bananas — and shared peanuts and apples with visitors in his chambers, he was also known as a strict judge with little patience for lawyers who were late or unprepared.

“Judge Brown has a lot of virtues but patience was not one of them,” said Mike Lahey, who served two dozen years as Judge Brown’s law clerk. “He was the only person I knew who could match his score both on the golf course and driving down the turnpike.”

Lahey said Judge Brown often liked to give directions, when Lahey was driving.

“We came to an agreement that even though he was a federal judge, appointed by the president of the United States to a life term, he had no jurisdiction in my Honda Accord,” Lahey said.

That love of being in control was also apparent during Saturday’s service at College Hill United Methodist Church. The hymns, such as “Morning Has Broken,” were picked by Judge Brown.

“He had his service all planned out, as you call can imagine,” said the Rev. Carl E. Martin of University Congregational Church, where Judge Brown attended.

The Rev. Keith Williamson’s eulogy recalled favorite moments by Judge Brown’s family, such as when he finally reached his goal of matching his age on the golf course at age 99.

Judge Brown was the last surviving charter member of Prairie Dunes Country Club in his hometown of Hutchinson.

A University of Kansas basketball fan, Judge Brown kept track of game scores and season statistics.

“His favorite pie was rhubarb,” Williamson said.

His favorite song: “Button Up Your Overcoat,” a popular song from 1928, which he would often sing off-key to his staff with the refrain, “take good care of yourself, you belong to me.”

Judge Brown was a huge fan of comedian and movie star Bob Hope.

In his final days, Williamson said, recalling family stories, Judge Brown tried to sing a line from Hope’s theme song:

“Thanks for the Memories.”

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