COLUMBIA — When Jesse Brown started work at St. Joseph School in 1976, Jimmy Carter was president, America was celebrating its bicentennial, and the pope in residence at the Vatican was Pope Paul VI.
Over the next 29 years, Brown became a much-loved fixture at the school on Devine Street, embedded in the memories of hundreds of students who came in contact with him while he worked at the school and in the cafeteria.
When he died of cancer in 2005, Brown was mourned by St. Joseph students both past and present.
On Dec. 1, the school held a ceremony in the cafeteria to dedicate a memorial plaque to Brown. The plaque was designed by Columbia artist Angel Allen, whose children attend St. Joseph. Students and staff members attended the dedication, along with members of Brown’s family and parishioners at St. Joseph.
The plaque is a large mosaic of handmade tiles and other items. Some of the tiles bear images of a chef’s hat and other objects related to Brown’s work at the school.
The words on the memorial plaque read: “Mr. Jesse Brown: Humble servant of Our Lord, faithful friend to St. Joseph School for 29 years, 1976-2005.”
Father Richard Harris, pastor at St. Joseph, led the gathering in the Lord’s Prayer and blessed the plaque.
“He was a loving blessing every day to the children here,” Father Harris said of Brown.
Parents and staff members spoke of Brown’s friendliness and of his dedication to the school and the well-being of its students.
The memorial plaque will be mounted on a wall of the cafeteria, easily visible to students during lunchtime.
Allen said she was honored to be asked to create the memorial. Her work, including a mosaic of the Holy Family, is present in several other locations around the campus.
“He was just a kind-hearted soul,” Allen said of Brown. “He always seemed happy and had a smile on his face.”
Dorothy Brown, his sister, recalled that her brother took care of her when she was young, and that he lived a life of both strong morality and great joy.
“Even for the 10 years he had cancer, you wouldn’t know about it, because he never complained,” she said. “He loved his work at St. Joseph’s. This was his home. He talked about the kids all the time, talked about what went on here. He really loved what he did.”
Lincoln Lawton, Brown’s son, said his father described the school as his “second home” and loved all of the 29 years he spent there.
“It’s really touching to see him remembered this way,” Lawton said. “I’m really glad they did this for my Dad.”