Henry Brown always has a story. He’s written hundreds of them; he’s authored many books, which are frequently referenced when it comes to Rhode Island history. And even today, his memory doesn’t elude him when it comes to growing up in Warwick more than 80 years ago.
But Tuesday evening, the tables were turned and the stories were about Henry.
The occasion was the annual meeting of the Pawtuxet Village Association, and Henry was honored with the group’s lifetime achievement award.
For a moment, there was some question whether Henry and his wife, Ann, would show up at the Aspray Boat House. The hour for the commencement of the meeting had come and gone. The hors d’oeuvres were plentiful and the wine flowed freely. There was speculation that with a few snowflakes in the air and a plummeting thermometer, the Browns had decided to stay home. Just as it was suggested somebody might pick him up, they walked in the door.
When it was time to turn the spotlight on Henry, Ginny Leslie assumed the role of historian. She’d done her research, starting with Henry’s birth Dec. 23, 1931, and how he has lived at Spring Green Farm for all his life for the exception of two years when he served in the Army and was stationed in Germany. She was also certain to mention that Henry is descended from John Brown Francis, who served as a U.S. senator and Rhode Island governor.
“Henry has been involved with so many groups over the years, and luckily the PVA and the Gaspee Days Committee and the Warwick Historical Society have been beneficiaries of his generosity of time and knowledge and his infectious joie de vivre,” she said.
She spoke of Henry’s many literary contributions to The Bridge, the semi-annual PVA publication, as well as his service to the city (he is Warwick’s official historian), Clouds Hill Victorian Museum, John Brown House and the Nathanael Greene Homestead.
There were tales of Henry, who as a charter member of the Gaspee Days Committee rides in a convertible in the annual Gaspee Days Parade. He’s hard to miss with his salty beard and top hat.
Former Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian told of growing up with his sons, Billy and Daniel, and of the time when Trinity Church conducted a ghost tour through the village as a fundraiser. Evidently there was some debate whether this was an appropriate activity for the Episcopal church to sponsor. Nonetheless, Henry went along with the plan, coming up with the stories to give it authenticity. Avedisian questioned if they were all true, but that didn’t seem to matter as the fundraiser was a great success.
Avedisian said he welcomed the opportunity to speak because “it is nice to say nice things about him who has only has nice things to say about everybody else.”
Indeed, there were a lot of nice things said about Henry’s willingness to share his knowledge and time with those who sought it and his generosity. Rep. Joseph McNamara spoke about Henry’s work with the Marine Archeology Project and the work done documenting the remains of two ships, one on the remains of Greene Island and the other in Occupasstuxet Cove. He thanked Henry for preserving significant pieces of U.S. history and those of the state and city, saying that has contributed to our culture.
Henry recounted a few stories of his own, keeping his remarks brief.
And he had a confession, which was greeted with laughter.
“I’ve been known to stretch the truth a little bit … but not much,” he said.
He was presented a rocking chair, which he gratefully accepted and from which he greeted his many friends.