My first memory of my father outside of his role as my dad was in the spring of my senior year in high school. My classmate and friend, Phil and I traveled to Israel, the first time traveling unsupervised as part of our high school’s senior curriculum. We later had to write a paper on our experience for credit before we could graduate.
Previous to that spring of 1977, Morris was to me, I guess, as most dads were then, hard working – even though I wasn’t exactly sure what he did – and a great provider. My mother was the nurturer, my father, semi-aloof behind the newspaper.
It was a generous gift of my parents to send me to Israel that spring. On our trip we took a planned bus tour with other Americans to Masada. Through the hot Israeli desert, up to the high bluff in the 110 degree heat, I began chatting with another American on our tour, a bit older than me but not by much. He said he was a New Jersey lawyer. So, just to make conversation, I mentioned that my father was a lawyer too, “Morris Brown, do you know him?” “Your dad is Morris Brown?” he exclaimed. I will never forget the expression on his face; to me it seemed a strange combination, a mixture of respect, awe and terror. I assumed immediately that it was because Morris was such a force to be reckoned with in court. This was not the last time this happened either, in fact where ever I traveled since then, if I ran into a New Jersey lawyer, they would know Morris Brown. “Tell you father, I said hi.” Most would request of me. I would always try to remember their names to relay back to my dad.
Coming from modest means in Carteret and on a lark taking the bar exam after college, he came in the top 5 percentile on the exam and went to Harvard Law School. Morris was incredibly motivated to do well in life, he knew that success was not defined by how wealthy you are but by how generous you are. He was one of the most gracious, generous people I’ve ever met. Generous almost to a fault, I’m sure anyone here; who ever tried to buy lunch would agree.
My father would tell me this story: There is this town; it is the toughest town in the state. He would begin. And in this town there is a neighborhood; it’s the toughest neighborhood in the town. In this neighborhood there is a street; the toughest street in the neighborhood. As you go down this street, with every house you pass the street gets tougher and tougher. And you want to know what? He’d say; I lived on the last house on this street!
In more recent years I shared my father’s passion for enjoying the newspaper. When visiting, I’d usually have some gnawing question about a piece of news I read that day. “What’s this about congress having to pass this bill now?” I’d ask. He’d answer me with patients and with such an incredible grasp of the material, I was in awe, and frankly envious. He knew every congressman who was involved with the bill by name, what state they were from, what their politics were, why this bill needed to be passed now, what previous presidents tried to pass this bill before and so on. I could only imagine trying to win an argument in the courtroom with someone so brilliant, someone who could retain so much of the material plus view the bigger picture.
My father tried to be stoic during my mother’s long battle with cancer. On the morning that my mother died about 10 weeks ago, he offered the best advice anyone could give. Be strong, he said, we all knew what was coming. I looked up at him and saw he was completely devastated, frail and sick himself, he was still able to see outside himself, still looking to provide for his family.