Don and Joan Brown: A McChord life

Former commander came back to area for good

By Jackson Hogan on January 20, 2017

Back in the far-off days of 1976, when Peter Frampton ruled the airwaves and Fort Lewis and Air Force Base McChord were separated, Maj. Gen. (retired) Don and Joan Brown moved onto McChord, and the four years they spent there are ones they will remember for the rest of their lives. Don arrived at McChord in April of that year to serve as the vice wing commander, and moved up a little over a year later to become the 62nd Military Airlift Wing Commander. Although they relocated to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois in 1979, when Don retired eight years later, the couple decided to move back to the South Sound permanently.

Joan said she and Don missed the Northwest so much, that not long after they had moved to Illinois, their daughter took notice and called them out.

"When we left here in 1979 to go to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, our younger daughter came home from vacation, and said, ‘Mom and Dad, all you do is talk about McChord and Washington. You never did that before, and it's disgusting. Stop it,'" Joan said.

Both Don and Joan made it clear that one of the main reasons they loved McChord, and why they returned later in life, was the community that they lived and worked with. Don said that in particular, he appreciated the work ethic of the people he was surrounded by.

"We thoroughly enjoyed everything about being here. And from my position, as the number two guy or number one guy, it's a very easy kind of job because everybody else worked so hard. And you were able to walk around and be like, ‘Gee, sergeant or airman so-and-so, thank you for doing that so well,'" Don said. "If you have that kind of an attitude on people, it's very easy to be their leader. Tell them what needs to be done and get the heck out of their way."

The couple also loved to give back to their community. Joan told the story of how Don tried to provide insulation for on-base housing that was built back in the 1920s, and although he managed to get the job done, there was a bit of an incident.

"I was doing the dishes, and (my daughter) came down and tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘now, don't get excited, but Dad is hanging through the attic and there are mice pellets all over the floor,'" Joan said. "But he got it insulated!"

Joan was heavily involved in volunteerism, as her and other military wives helped with various events and groups, such as teaching an English as a second-language program, working at the thrift shop, working with the Red Cross, and many other things. Joan said that her experiences really helped shape her viewpoint on how important helping people is.

"I had not realized until the Red Cross ceremony about how purely American volunteerism is," Joan said. "You know, Alexis de Tocqueville applauded it in Democracy in America. He said Americans see a problem, and then spontaneously come together to solve it."

With the great group of people that Joan and Don Brown lived and worked with, it's no wonder they chose to come back and live in Steilacoom.

"We had truly a great community relationship, and that's what brought us back," Don said. "Plus the mountains are nice."