Alma Brown (center), the widow of Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, and her children, Tracey and William, leave Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia on April 10, 1996, following the graveside ceremony for Ron Brown, who was killed April 3 in a jet crash near Dubrovnic, Croatia.

Alma Arrington Brown, the wife of the late U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ronald H. Brown, as well as a philanthropist with a special focus on children and underserved communities, died at the age of 76 on April 3, 2016—exactly 20 years to the day of her husband’s death.

According to a press release, Alma Brown died in Washington, D.C., after battling a brief illness. 


“Our mother was not only an inspiring role model to our family, she was an inspiration to countless young people who benefited from her tireless community service and generous education philanthropy,” her daughter, Tracey Brown James, said in the release. “Her extensive career transcended many fields as an educator, community leader, political activist, banker and broadcaster and paved the way for so many to lead public-service-oriented lives.” 

Alma Brown, born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 14, 1940, earned her bachelor’s degree from the historic Fisk University and her master’s from Manhattanville College, eventually launching a career as an educator. The community activist and leader started out teaching nursery school children, as well as teen mothers in urban communities. She worked wth numerous national organizations throughout the years, including the National Black Child Development Institute, the National Council of Negro Women, the National Urban League, the United Negro College Fund and Girl Scouts of America. 


Brown also had a part to play in negotiations with the Chinese government to construct a Chinese archway in Washington, D.C., while working at the District of Columbia Office of International Business, which gave way to the revival of D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood. 

In 1989 Brown got into broadcasting, becoming the director of public affairs and host of a public affairs radio show for WKYS-FM in D.C. She remained at the station for six years before moving on to Chevy Chase Bank as vice president. When Chevy Chase Bank and BET came together to form BET Financial Services, Brown became the vice chairperson of that endeavor. Eventually she became a senior vice president at Chevy Chase and remained there until her retirement. 


Throughout the remainder of her life, Brown remained active with national and community social, civic and political organizations, serving on several national boards, including the boards of trustees of Fisk University, the National Urban League and Providence Hospital, as well as on the local advisory board of UNCF and the American Cancer Society.  She also held leadership roles in social and civic organizations including the Links, Inc., Jack and Jill, the Girlfriends, Inc., and the National Smart Set.

On April 3, 1996, her husband, Ron Brown, the first African American to hold the position of secretary of commerce, died in a plane crash along with 34 others while leading a trade mission to Croatia during the first term of President Bill Clinton’s administration. 


Brown and her children created the Ronald H. Brown Foundation following his death. Alma Brown also became a founding member of the Ron Brown Scholar Program, which has provided college scholarships and mentorships to nearly 400 young people of color since its creation. 

Brown leaves behind her two children, Michael and Tracey, four grandchildren and many others who remember her legacy. 


“Alma devoted her life to her family and doing good, and she encouraged her family and friends to do the same. She and Ron were quite a team, and after his tragic death—20 years to the day before she died—Alma redoubled her efforts on behalf of children, college students and underserved communities. She leaves a legacy of grace, strength and unflagging commitment. We were so lucky to have her in our lives,” Bill and Hillary Clinton said in a joint statement. 

A wake for Alma Brown will be held April 11, and the funeral will be held April 12. Both events will be open to the public but closed to press. The family is requesting that in lieu of flowers, contributions be made to the Ron Brown Scholar Program

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