By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
1,000 fill gym for memorial services for East Union icon
Vern Gebhardt, right, and Rick Arucan offer their condolences to Jan Brown before the start of Saturday’s memorial services for her late husband Jim Brown at the East Union High Dalben Center. - photo by HIME ROMERO
Coach Jim Brown was an icon among men, standing as a sentinel of respect, honor and determination.

It is why nearly 1,000 friends he had touched filled a memorial service in his honor Saturday morning at in the gym at East Union High. The campus is where the storied football coaching career of the man they called “Gentleman Jim” played out giving impressionable athletes values that were worth more than any Valley Oak League championship although he helped teams earn three varsity football titles.

It was a memorial service where you could figuratively hear a pin drop and that spoke of a man who clearly demonstrated what friendship should really mean in today’s world.

Brown’s daughter Lisa Goodwin urged friends and family to carry on his spirit in their daily lives:  “Give a smile, a pat on the back and a hug to everyone you meet.”

Brown, 72, was stricken with a heart attack on Monday morning in Atlanta, GA, while vacationing with his wife Jan of 49 years.  Passersby who noticed his distress stopped and administered CPR until the ambulance arrived to transport him to a medical center. He passed away shortly thereafter.

The high school bleachers Saturday were filled with familiar faces of educators, former students, retired school administrators, business people, police, and firefighters.

Pastor of his St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, Brandon Austin, said it was almost like the crowd could see him or even hear his voice in the gym at East Union High where he spent 17 years of his life.

Austin said that if Jim were physically present, he might use a phrase to ease the pain of those he was leaving behind, one that would be familiar to the countless athletes he had encouraged over the years to do their best.    

“OK team.  Suck it up.  Let’s get back in the game!”

The trumpet of retired East Union band director Jose Barron – accompanied by pianist Glenn DeJong – penetrated the gymnasium with the opening song, “How Great Thou Art,” and at the conclusion, “Amazing Grace.”

Lisa Goodwin’s young son Reed was quick to tell how he would do his part after hearing his grandpa had died, sharing his concern with a younger grandson, Holden.  “I’m going to spend the night with grandma and keep her warm,” the 7-year-old said.  

Daughter-in-law Lisa (Bordenkircher) Brown – pastor of the Jamestown United Methodist Church –  told of the last five days of shock where there were times of silence among family members when no one could say anything.

“There is a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant, a time to leaf and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance, a time to keep silent and a time to speak,” she said.  “Now it is a time to honor a wonderful man.”

Lisa said in this past week family and friends and the community have shared their tears, had times when they could laugh in remembering great stories and times of silence.  There were planning sessions held all week among family members wanting the memorial to be perfect in his memory.

“We had our team meetings and our scrimmages – all to prepare for today,” she said.

She reminded her audience that her father-in-law had been honored with the EUHS weight room having been named after him as well as by the community that elevated him to the Manteca Hall of Fame in 2009.  He had retired from teaching and from coaching in 1998, she added.

“Jim was a natural born leader.  There are stories that include him and his family riding to church from their (Midwest) farm in a horse drawn wagon on Sundays and Wednesday nights,” she said.

When Brown’s brother Nuel stepped up to the microphone, it was like hearing Jim speaking to the audience as their voice patterns are very similar.  He told of their dad being a sharecropper – a very successful one – who made sure his family was well fed with a mother who always sent her children out of the house with clean clothes.

“Our dad said you may not always have money, but you can always be a gentleman,” he remembered.  He added that it warmed his heart to see the headline in the Manteca Bulletin referring to his brother as “Gentleman Jim.”

Of Jim, he said, “He never did anything bad.  Never got in trouble – always a gentleman growing up – about eight years old when he left the farm.”

They had their own ball game on the farm – cow paddy ball.   First, second and third bases didn’t matter.  Those bases could be marked with just a single cow paddy, he said.  But there had to be a lot more on home plate, because that’s where all the action was,” he chuckled.

Oldest of the grandchildren, Lynae Goodwin, spoke for them all remembering how close he was to every family member and made it his goal in life to always be there for his grandchildren.  He wanted to be called “grandpa” by them and nothing else, she said.

“Hi James B!” a greeting she used to welcome him on a morning she will never forget.  “Don’t you call me that,” she remembered him firing back.  “I’m grandpa!”

She told of the grandchildren knowing he was always with them through blood, sweat and tears.  He wanted to be in the triumph of their lives – always present from athletic events to early morning breakfasts to singing in the St. Paul’s Church Choir and dancing in the family kitchen making teddy bear pancakes.

Daughter-in-law Lisa Brown said Jim was always dressed the best from his Farmer Brown overalls to fancy digs.  He also clothed himself with compassion and kindness with the belief it wasn’t his place to judge.

Jim always showed his pride in their two children Kirk and Lisa.  He had been heard asking his wife Jan on several occasions, “How’d we end up with such amazing and intelligent children?”

And when the grandkids were sick, they’d always call on grandpa to bring them their favorite Gatorade.  The word got out that it seemed to be the best medicine.

Following the memorial service fellow teacher Earl Pimentel told of his respect and love for Brown who had taught in the room next to him for some 12 years.  They would also cross paths on the athletic field.  Pimentel said Jim was always ready with a hug – and he gave them freely.  “What a wonderful man,” he said of Coach Brown.

At the reception that followed in the high school cafeteria a special friend of Jan Brown, Phyllis Vick Jamison, said they had become close after Jan’s son Kirk was a year old.  

That was 21 years ago and during those two generations they worked closely together at Brown’s Allen Jewelry Store on Yosemite Avenue.

“We even quilt together,” Phyllis said.  Concerned about Jan’s continued grieving in the weeks and months to come, she said she will be camped out on her doorstep every morning.

A slide show of Brown’s life filled the final minutes of the memorial service.  Concluding the event was a voice mail message left by Jim calling from his Georgia vacation spot telling those at home they were having a good time and adding that he loved them all.  He finished with a simple “Good-bye.”