Ontario’s pro-life community suffered a tremendous loss August 31 with the sudden passing of Tom Brown of Toronto.
A long-time pro-life activist, Brown died of heart failure near his Toronto home at age 62. Brown combined a quiet compassion for the unborn and pregnant women in distress with a steely resolve to work against abortion and its consequences.
Jim Hughes, national president of Campaign Life Coalition, described his late colleague as a dedicated pro-life worker who impressed people he met with his caring, but determined demeanor.
A Toronto native, Brown was educated at Toronto schools and worked for several years as an agent with the London Life insurance company. Brown was eminently successful in the insurance business, winning a number of company awards, and earning an opportunity to take early retirement.
Together with wife Barbara, Brown took the Roman Catholic Church’s teachings about the sanctity of human life to heart. The fate of unborn children and their mothers however, became incentives for a deeper commitment for Brown. He became active with Campaign Life Coalition in the late 1970s, and devoted countless hours to the organization and its financial health. He also inspired his four sons to an active commitment to defending human life at its most vulnerable stages.
One of Brown’s chief passions was supporting Aid to Women, a pro-life service agency for women in crisis pregnancies. Tom devoted two days a week to Aid to Women as a sidewalk counsellor and general resource person.
For many years, he worked with Mary Burnie as an Aid to Women counsellor. Clad in his customary New York Yankees jacket, and armed with pro-life literature and assorted posters, Brown served as a last chance for abortion-minded women to consider a pro-life alternative. Prior to the founding of Aid to Women, Brown offered sidewalk counselling to women at Henry Morgentaler’s franchise on Harbord St.
Father Richard Love of Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church in Toronto was Brown’s pastor and spiritual director. Father Love told The Interim that Brown attempted to live the Gospel of Christ in a quiet yet forceful way.
“Tom was a passionate man in the broadest sense of the word,” Father Love said. “He was extraordinarily charitable and he attempted to remain faithful to Gospel teachings.” The priest added that the pro-life movement became a cause around which Brown centred his faith life.
“Right to life was always number one with Tom,” Father Love said.
In addition to his pro-life efforts, Brown found time to serve as chairman of the Canadian Martyrs parish finance committee. He and wife Barbara were also preparing a Canadian Martyrs parish pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the time of his death.
Despite his hard work in fund-raising and coordination, Brown is best remembered for his unflinching defence of preborn babies. At the same time, he was mindful of the struggles faced by young mothers facing unwanted or unplanned pregnancies. Tom understood as well as anyone, that any movement defending the right to life of the unborn had to extend that same compassion to the mother, even if that woman choose to proceed with the abortion.
Joanne Dieleman, director of Aid to Women, worked with Brown for at least 16 years. She said Brown’s personality was ideal for pro-life counselling work.
“You could always count on Tom,” Dieleman said. “He was a good counsellor with an obvious sense of compassion. He was a positive influence on everything we did at Aid to Women.” Dieleman last saw Brown in late August when the pro-lifer organized a right-to-life demonstration at an overpass above Toronto’s Don Valley Parkway.
Many found it appropriate that one of Brown’s final acts would be to stage a silent witness for unborn children.
“Tom was very effective at creating harmony between people,” Dieleman said. “We come from different faith backgrounds, but that didn’t matter to Tom. He always worked at bringing people together for the sake of unborn babies. Tom recognized the seriousness of our work, but we also enjoyed the camaraderie.”
Robert Hinchey, a colleague of Brown’s at Aid to Women, said Brown was an effective front-line pro-life activist.
“I remember him offering sidewalk counselling both at the old Harbord St. clinic and later at the Gerrard St. abortuary,” Hinchey said. “He was sincere in his offer of assistance to women in distress. They didn’t always accept that help, but no one doubted his sincerity.”
Hinchey said that for someone who relied on compassion and direct help, Brown “stood his ground” when challenged on the morality of abortion and contraception and their impact on society.
Brown also showed great courage when coming into direct contact with abortion supporters. He often took his camera to sidewalk counselling sessions, and snapped revealing photographs of many of the pro-abortion movement’s dark underside. One of his latest photos was of an ambulance pulling up to the Gerrard St. clinic to transport a botched abortion victim to a nearby hospital. The photo was made into a poster, entitled, “Another Victim of Abortion.”
Many in pro-life, pro-family circles recall Brown as a man who understood the importance of community and solidarity. He regularly alerted colleagues and Interim newspaper editors to the passing of members of the pro-life family. It was Brown’s way of ensuring these deaths were noted in the newspaper’s In Memoriam section. At the same time, it was Brown’s humble way of paying respect to his departed colleagues.
Despite the demands of pro-life work, Brown made time for the disabled and shut-ins. At least once a week for the last three years, he visited fellow pro-life supporter Leo Beecher at his room at Providence Centre in Scarborough. Beecher, who suffered a stroke in the early 1990s, was always inspired by Brown’s cheerful presence.
One of Brown’s contributions to Campaign Life Coalition was his supervision of the annual Christmas cake sale over the last 10 years, an important fund-raiser for CLC. The annual cake sale program occupied almost all of Brown’s time between November 1 and Christmas Eve, and afterwards.
For Brown, however, the hard work was a small sacrifice to be made for the sake of unborn children.
Tom is survived by his wife Barbara, and sons David, Michael, Richard and Christopher. His funeral Mass was celebrated September 4 at Canadian Martyrs Catholic Church in east-end Toronto. Pastor Father Richard Love celebrated the funeral Mass, with concelebrants Father Ted Colleton, Father Alphonse deValk and Father Jim McManamy.