A bass player with the Brandywine Singers folk group in the early 1960s, Harold Brown tired of performing on the road all the time and one day, while making a record in New York City, he announced to his fellow musicians that he planned to go to law school.
Now, 40-some years later, Brown is retiring from his seat on the Kenai Superior Court where he has been a judge since 1996.
Having graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a bachelor’s degree in history in 1963, Brown took the law school admission test, but decided to stick with music at the time. In addition to playing bass, he also did some singing.
Unlike the stereotypical folk musicians of the ’60s era, Brown came from a much more regimented background.
Like his father before him, Brown had been accepted into the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, but the younger cadet received a medical discharge partway through his sophomore year due to a leg injury attributed in part to the rigorous physical training and to playing football.
During his two years with Brandywine, Brown spent one summer touring with Johnny Mathis, and the group appeared on the ABC Hootenanny Show. At Dartmouth College that year, Brandywine also performed with Johnny Cash.
“I remember one concert ... we were on before Josh White and there was a comedian on before us,” said Brown. “It was Bill Cosby.”
The group also played concerts with groups famous at the time, including the Kingston Trio; Peter, Paul and Mary; and the Limelighters.
“I had reached my plateau, and traveling all that time on the road is really hard,” Brown said.
“One day, in late August, we were making a record in New York City and were on the 17th or 18th cut.
“I told the fellows, ‘I think I’ll go to law school,’” he said.
He began driving up toward Connecticut from New York City and got to a crossroads where he had to make a decision. One way led to Boston University, the other to Syracuse. He had sent his LSAT scores to both schools.
He recalls the people at Boston University snickering somewhat when he arrived there and announced he wanted to attend law school, but after reviewing his scores, he was accepted.
He graduated in 1968.
While still in law school, he took a job with a private law firm in Boston, and after one year, he went to work with the state attorney general’s office working on organized crime.
He married the former Susan Murphy, of North Andover, Mass., in June 1970 and started seeing ads in the bar journal recruiting attorneys for Alaska. The trans-Alaska pipeline was coming.
“I had visions of fly fishing,” Brown said.
He had a friend working as an attorney for the state in Fairbanks at the time who said he would give Brown’s resume to the Alaska Attorney General.
“When I got the call, it was for the district attorney (position) in Ketchikan,” Brown said. The call came from John Havelock, attorney general.
“He hired me, and he wanted us to get to Alaska as soon as possible,” Brown said.
“My wife had a great teaching job, but we decided to move. We committed to two years.”
After serving as a prosecutor for four or five years, Brown returned to Boston University to work on a master’s degree in taxation.
“What a big waste of time,” he said.
In 1974, Brown, his wife and their first daughter returned to Ketchikan, where he went into private practice, staying there until 1985. He served as the president of the Alaska Bar Association from 1984 to 1985.
In 1985, then Gov. Bill Sheffield asked Brown to be the state’s attorney general.
“Right after I accepted, the Grand Jury recommended that Sheffield be impeached,” Brown said.
The governor had been implicated in questionable bidding practices involving a building project in Fairbanks.
Because of the impact the scandal report had on Sheffield, he was not re-elected. Brown served as attorney general for 18 months.
The executive director position for the Alaska Judicial Council opened in Anchorage, and considering his two daughters who were becoming good swimmers would have a more competitive environment in that city, the Brown family moved.
Then, in 1989, the Exxon Valdez went aground in Prince William Sound, resulting in some large law firms setting up shop in Alaska.
Brown went to work for the Heller law firm, taking over their office from July 1989 to June 1996.
The salary afforded by the big firm enabled both Brown daughters to complete their college educations.
Katy (Brown) McCutcheon now works as a vice president in capital giving for the University of North Carolina, and Molly Brown is an attorney with the Guess and Rudd law firm in Anchorage.
“In 1996, Judge (Charles) Cranston retired, and I had the urge to get back to small-town living,” Brown said. “I’ve always been comfortable living in places like Kenai.”
Brown became a Kenai Superior Court judge.
When asked if he plans to remain in Kenai after retiring this summer, Brown said, “I wouldn’t be surprised if we stay.”
He said he and his wife first plan to go on “a big road trip ... with no schedule.”
His plan calls for getting into physical shape so he can fly fish more, as well.
He also feels sure the court will be in need of his services as a judge pro-tem.
Applications for his seat are being accepted by the Alaska Judicial Council until Feb. 16.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at phillip.hermanek @peninsulaclarion.com.
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