Noted Catawba professor, Center for Faith & the Arts founder Dan Brown dies

Published 12:00 am Sunday, February 28, 2016

By Mark Wineka

SALISBURY — You’ve heard that some people are left-brained, some right-brained.

Dr. J. Daniel Brown, known as “Dan” to most of his friends, might have been both. He would have a vision, then he looked after every detail until his concept was complete.

“He wanted to see things through the right way,” said Betty Brown, his wife of more than 58 years.

Dan Brown, professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Catawba College and founder in 1995 of the Salisbury-based Center for Faith & the Arts, died Friday after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. He was 82.

Catawba College flew its flags at half-staff this weekend in Brown’s honor.

Some of the visions Brown saw to completion during his 30 years as a professor at Catawba College were the Hobbie Center for Vocation and Ethics, the First Carolinas Collegiathon and the Order of the Blue and White, a men’s service organization on campus.

The college said Brown, who became chairman of the college’s Department of Religion and Philosophy, also was the driving force and eight-year chairman of its Interdisciplinary Symposia.

Wanting to keep busy in retirement and provide an educational experience looking at religion’s influence on the arts, Brown founded Center for Faith & the Arts in 1995, two years prior to retiring from Catawba.

Betty Brown said it fit perfectly with her husband, whose doctorate was in theology and culture.

Brown first led the organization from the trunk of his car. Later, he leased a downtown office before the organization was able to land in its present home at Haven Lutheran Church, where the accommodations are big enough for programs, lectures and exhibits.

As part of Center for Faith & the Arts, Brown also was founder and editor of a magazine called “Muse & Spirit,” which is no longer published. Brown was good at twisting arms, and he found many contributors to the magazine.

Betty Brown laughed Saturday, remembering how a college buddy of Dan’s read the magazine and told him there was too much spirit and not enough muse.

Because of his illness — he entered the Alzheimer’s unit at Trinity Oaks Health & Rehab in 2013 after first being diagnosed in January 2008 — Brown could not attend the 20th anniversary of Center for Faith & the Arts last year.

Betty Brown appeared in his stead and reminded all the supporters behind the organization that “It was never a one-man show.”

The Eagle Heights house of Dan and Betty Brown demonstrated Brown’s ability to rally supporters and his attention to detail. In 1974, Brown built the house from plans the couple saw in a magazine.

On one weekend, Betty said Saturday, Brown assembled 12 men with Ph.Ds from Catawba and guided them through putting up rafters to the house.

Betty also recalled the day an inspector came by to look at the footings and reported to Dan they were perfectly square. Brown was a little insulted the inspector would have expected anything else.

Every day when Brown left the construction site, he swept up all the sawdust and other dirt, and he couldn’t abide by any trash left behind.

It became the home where the Browns continued to raise their two daughters, Karen and Evelyn.

Dan Brown was born in Cabarrus County. He came to Catawba College in 1967 after having earned degrees from Lenoir-Rhyne College, Lutheran Theological Seminary, Princeton Theological Seminary and Drew University.

He also did post-graduate work at Duke University.

After seminary studies, Brown served briefly as pastor at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Gold Hill, Mt. Olive Lutheran in Mount Pleasant and Grace Lutheran in Thomasville. But Brown let the leaders of those congregations know he had other plans.

“He always knew he wanted to teach,” Betty Brown said.

Dan Brown was always going to Catawba College’s presidents and fellow faculty members with ideas, his wife said. He also could be outspoken.

In the spring of 1970, Brown was one of the most-quoted speakers at a peace demonstration and anti-war rally held at City Park by Livingstone and Catawba College students.

At Catawba College, Brown earned the Swink Prize for Outstanding Classroom Teaching in 1975 and the Trustee Award for Outstanding Service to the College in 1997.

His vast collection of scholarly books was donated to Catawba in 2012, and they are housed on campus as a resource for students and faculty.

A full obituary for Brown appears on page 7A.

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.