Faubourg St. John neighbor, Harold “Hal” Brown, a volunteer who brought the soul of a social worker and the mind of an investment banker to the multitude of volunteer tasks he undertook to rebuild his hometown after Hurricane Katrina, died Tuesday at his New Orleans home of complications from prostate cancer. He was 66.
Mr. Brown, who returned to the city before the 2005 storm after a career as an investment manager, volunteered to lead projects with big goals that included improving public education, preserving history and culture, promoting economic development and revitalizing neighborhoods.
One such project was the conversion of the former Schwegmann’s supermarket at North Broad and Bienville streets into the ReFresh Center, which is designed to provide healthful food to the surrounding neighborhood.
Mr. Brown was deeply involved in arranging the $18 million financing for this initiative, said Lisa Amoss, president of Broad Community Connections, which is spearheading the project.
After Mr. Brown, a board member, worked five years to make it happen, Amoss said financing closed on Tuesday – the day he died.
Mr. Brown’s work on this project was typical of his approach to the work he undertook during the past eight years, which he spent as a full-time volunteer, said Rod Miller, president and chief executive officer of the New Orleans Business Alliance. Mr. Brown was a key member of the team that lobbied for the alliance’s formation.
“He was very much a guy who was bottom-line focused and extraordinarily compassionate,” Miller said. “He wanted to work on projects that ultimately had a community benefit to them, but he always approached them from a very analytical business perspective.”
It came in handy after Katrina, when there was a broad-based emphasis on rebuilding the battered city, said Patty Gay, executive director of the Preservation Resource Center. Mr. Brown was a member of its board for three years.
“He was very dedicated to the historic built environment,” Gay said. “He appreciated the business sense of preservation. He knew it worked economically.”
Mr. Brown graduated from St. Augustine High School and Xavier University, and he earned a master’s degree in urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles.
He spent about 20 years there, working for nonprofit organizations, said Shawn Kennedy, his wife.
During that period, she said, he gained experience in investment. When he moved to Washington, he worked at Paladin Capital Group, an investment-advisory firm.
But, Kennedy said, her husband wanted to be back in New Orleans. The two of them arrived shortly before Katrina laid waste to the city.
After the storm, Mr. Brown drew on his training in urban planning, his wife said. “He actually saw the opportunities in the chaos in the physical city and the institutional city. . . . He immediately started thinking about doing better, doing more.”
That process included going to meeting after meeting where people discussed their problems and shared their ideas about recovery.
Among the people he met was Ben Kleban. The two worked together on what became New Orleans College Prep, a network of charter schools. Kleban is its chief executive officer; Mr. Brown was its first board chairman.
Through his skill at networking, Mr. Brown was an ambassador for the fledgling enterprise, forming partnerships throughout the community, Kleban said. “He played an instrumental part in making this organization a success.”
Mr. Brown also saw the wisdom of bringing government and business together to guide economic development for rebuilding the city. The result was the Horizon Initiative; he was its president.
Working with Miller and other business leaders and government officials, Mr. Brown helped form the New Orleans Business Alliance, which has become the city’s official economic-development agency.
“He was always thinking and reflecting,” Miller said. “Sometimes, he was quiet because he was taking it all in and trying to go through all the stuff out there and see what was at the bottom of it.”
There was another reason for this behavior, said Joey Lerman, who worked with Mr. Brown on a project to convert St. Rose of Lima Church and nearby school buildings into the Bayou Treme Center, a multipurpose facility for performing arts, new charter schools that need space and a business incubator.
“He was very good at listening to other people and allowing them to be good at what they were good at,” Lerman said. “He was good at allowing them to thrive. He made other people better at what they were already good at.”
Mr. Brown also was treasurer of the New Orleans African American Museum and served on the boards of the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools and BioDistrict New Orleans.
In addition to Kennedy, survivors include a son, David Brown of Sacramento, Calif.; a stepson, Major Godwin of Sacramento; a stepdaughter, Byanca Godwin of Los Angeles; and two sisters, Dr. Carolyn Block-Arnelle of San Francisco and Dr. Euphemie Brown of Biloxi, Miss.
A memorial service will be held later.
D.W. Rhodes Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.