Preserving the Past, Informing the Future
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Allyn Larrabee Brown was born in Norwich, Connecticut, on October 26, 1883, the son of Lucius Brown and Hannah Maria Larrabee Brown, and he died there on October 22, 1973. He was the twenty-first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Connecticut.
He graduated from the Norwich Free Academy in 1901 and completed his undergraduate work at Brown University in 1905 and his legal studies at the Harvard Law School in 1908. He was admitted to the Connecticut bar on January 15, 1909. His father was then and since 1868 had been a distinguished member of the bar and in 1909 was the senior member of the Norwich law firm of Brown and Perkins, which Allyn L. Brown joined in that year, continuing in active practice as a member of the firm until his appointment to the bench.
In 1917 Allyn L. Brown was appointed as the first public defender for New London County. Judge Brown, whose sense of humor was particularly keen, liked to tell in after years of the newspaper account of his first appearance at the ensuing criminal session. The reporter, somewhat unsure of the nature of the new office but wishing to make favorable mention of Attorney Brown's presence at the session, said, "The State's Attorney was ably assisted in the presentation of his cases by the new Public Defender, Allyn L. Brown." Judge Brown used to add the comment that the reporter, in spite of his generous intensions, was more than half right. But Attorney Brown soon gained the reputation for his capable and vigorous defense of the impecunious accused in the Superior Court. Indeed, his practice as a lawyer, both in court and out, was characterized by thoroughness of preparation in both the facts and the law and an earnest and persuasive presentation of his cases. During these years he actively participated in public affairs and in 1916 was elected mayor of the city of Norwich, the youngest at that time ever to have held that position. In 1920 he was elected to the state senate and served as a member of the judiciary committee. He was a faithful and devout member of the Central Baptist Church, for many years was a deacon and, at different times, served as clerk, president of the board of managers, and church moderator. He was also active in both the local and state organizations of the Young Men's Christian Association and in the Boy Scouts and other groups which serve to promote public good.
On June 4, 1913, he was married to Marion M. Brown at Brooklyn, New York, where her home was. She survives him. During his long and active career she provided him with a happy and felicitous home life and shared in his interests and numerous non-professional projects. They had two children; a daughter, Frances H. Brown of Norwich and a son, Allyn L. Brown, Jr., of Preston, a lawyer who is past president of the Connecticut Bar Association and a former state's attorney for New London County, now in active practice in Norwich. Six grandchildren brought much satisfaction and joy to Judge Brown in the years before his final illness.
In 1921 he was appointed by Governor Everett J. Lake to fill the vacancy on the Superior Court brought about by the retirement of Judge Gardiner Greene of Norwich. Judge Brown served on the Superior Court as a trial judge for fourteen years. In 1935 he was named by Governor Wilbur L. Cross as an associate justice of the Connecticut Supreme Court, and effective March 10, 1950, he was appointed chief justice by Governor Chester Bowles, and continued to serve in that capacity until he reached the constitutional retirement age of seventy on October 26, 1953. Thereafter he became a state referee. In addition to his judicial obligations, Judge Brown, for five years, carried out the duties of membership on the state bar examining committee, and he also served on the state board of pardons and the executive committee of the Connecticut Prison Association.
Throughout his twelve years of practice and his thirty-two years on the bench, Judge Brown maintained an intense interest in education. For fourteen years he was president of the corporation and board of trustees of the Norwich Free Academy. He was a member of the board of trustees of the Mansfield Training School, and president of the board for several terms. He became a trustee of Brown University in 1930 and of Connecticut College in 1953. In honor of his distinguished services as a jurist and his contributions to the cause of education, his alma mater, Brown University, in 1938 conferred upon him an L.L.D. degree. Wesleyan University granted him an L.L.D. degree in 1950. But his interests and efforts in the realm of education were not confined to work with recognized and well established institutions, for he was profoundly concerned with the struggles of individuals who, because of a lack of financial means or other adverse circumstances, were having a difficult time in attaining a higher education. He gave generously of his time and of his own resources to help them achieve their goals.
For more than sixty years he labored in the vineyard of the bar and brought to his tasks greatness of mind and character and the "one increasing purpose" to bring about fairness and justice in all the relationships of men. As a trial judge he was courteous and considerate, careful and thorough. He presided with a dignity and a presence which ensured decorum in the court and respect for the law. As associate justice and chief justice of the Supreme Court of the state, he brought to the court the benefit of his very active practice and his many years on the trial court. He never lost sight of the problems confronted by the trial judges in all the courts and favored practical and effective solutions of specific cases within the framework of the law rather than interpretations and solutions which leaned toward the abstractly theoretical and doctrinaire. His opinions were clear and unambiguous, free from obscure allusions and nebulous escape hatches thrown in against the day of a possible future change of mind.
He possessed the attributes of a great judge. He was conscientious, hardworking and learned in the law; he was courageous in that he always stood for and spoke for what in good conscience he believed to be right; he was not afraid to disagree when he must, and then he did so deferentially and graciously, after he had carefully weighed the opinions of others. He was honest in his thinking and acted accordingly. His life was dedicated to performing fully and well his duty as a judge, regardless of the consequences.
After the death of Chief Justice William M. Maltbie, Chief Justice Brown, who succeeded him, said of his predecessor: "He never compromised his convictions, or hesitated to keep sharply defined the difference between right and wrong.....Not only did he assign to himself the most difficult opinions which were to be written but, by his logical and persuasive comments on the opinions prepared by the other judges, very often obviated the danger of dissenting opinions and helped to preserve the symmetrical development of the common law of Connecticut." Although it surely never occurred to Judge Brown that his fine tribute to his dear friend and colleague could or would ever be used as a fair estimate of his own character as chief justice, the appropriateness of its use for that purpose comes immediately to mind, and it is fitting and deserved.
Judge Brown's devout and self-disciplined life, his reputation for absolute honesty and integrity, and his dedication to the cause of justice would perhaps, standing by themselves, suggest a person somewhat distant and formidable, but joined as they were with great warmth of heart, a capacity for kindness and generosity, a ready and delightful sense of humor, an outgoing and friendly disposition, a great depth of understanding and a compassionate spirit, he is remembered as an intensely human person who stood tall among his fellows through his notable endowments of character and mind. His state and his country remember his long and dedicated service and his great contributions to the imperishable value of freedom and justice under law-the heritage of his fathers and the hope of generations to come.