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Fighter(s) of the Month: Jerry and Donna Brown

A Diagnosis

For retired police Lieutenant Jerry Brown, one of his most puzzling cases was 'The Case of the Mysterious Foot Drag.' He suspected something wasn’t adding up. His right foot was getting sloppy. At first, the clues were thin. Only the occasional choppy step or a subtle stumble. But after a few months of investigation, and several doctor visits, Brown’s case finally cracked open with an unexpected diagnosis. The evidence added up to Parkinson’s Disease.

 

“Back then, the news about Parkinson’s simply wasn’t good…there wasn’t much they could offer me.” Brown remembers his doctor saying, “Here’s your medication, see you in six months.” The best they offered was a hope that the symptoms would progress slowly. Not much to hang onto. But Brown relied on the discipline earned over a tough, thirty-year career of daily challenges; to that he added a positive outlook, a loving wife, a fortifying faith, and continuing with an active lifestyle. This helped to make up for the lack of knowledge available on how to manage Parkinson's disease.

Meanwhile, only a few miles away from Brown, also in Red Bluff, California, a young lady named Colleen Stan was going through an ordeal of her own. Miss Stan had been hitch hiking along Californian roadways, something commonly done in the 1970's. She accepted a ride from a husband and wife who also had a baby in the car. Stan felt safe enough and only discovered the couple's evil intent when they drove her to a deserted area and threatened and kidnapped her with a knife. That began 7 years of captivity and terror for Stan; captivity made possible by brainwashing and threats of violence against Stan's family, should she ever attempt to escape. The wife eventually had a change of mind and admitted to Stan that there was no one involved in her captivity and that no harm would come to her family if she escaped.

Stan was freed in 1985 and it became Lieutenant Jerry Brown's job to lead the investigation into the horrifying kidnapping and help convict Cameron Hooker. Brown's team was able to uncover enough evidence to convict Hooker of multiple crimes and Hooker was sentenced to 85 years in prison. Hooker was denied parole in April 2015.

 Career

In 1960, Brown started as a patrolman with the Red Bluff Police Dept. in California. He moved up through the years to Sargent, then Lieutenant and for a time, acting Chief. He worked as press officer, school liaison officer, and was in charge of the narcotics division. He received a degree in Police Science and then taught Police Science at the local college.

Before serving on the police force, Brown entered the U.S. Air Force after a stint at the local saw mill, where he worked when he married his bride of 59 years, Donna. The newly wed couple were sent to San Antonio, Texas. He served as an M.P. and load master on a C124 cargo plane transporting military weaponry around the world. While Brown was up in the air, Donna completed her high school degree. In Texas, the couple developed many friendships and enjoyed exploring the new city that was now home.

Brown’s next assignment sent him over-seas to England. The couple spent the next year living off base in a tiny village flat built over the corner grocery store. They bought themselves a 1939 Morris coupe to explore their new surroundings. They managed trips to London, and motored the countryside. With fond memories of that time, Donna still enjoys watching television programs set in England.

Brown describes Red Bluff as a small, quiet community; but he reflects back on a career filled with its share of challenges. None larger than the day a woman named Janice Hooker walked into the Police Department. She told him the story of how she and her husband had kidnapped a young girl hitch-hiking, and then held her captive for seven years. A sensational story that would bring attention and inquiries from around the world. A single case that detectives investigated for six long months before the suspect he arrested for the crime was brought to trial. In the end, a local man named Cameron Hooker was convicted with several major crimes, including kidnapping, and sentenced to 103 years prison.

New Chapter

Today, the Browns enjoy their life in Florida. They continue their active life and travel (they've motorcycled to Canada, Mexico and across many other states), entertain friends, play games with friends, enjoy church activities, ski, fish, and spend time with their grandchildren. Brown also enjoys woodwork and spends many hours a day in his workshop, which he has found to be therapeutic. “The wood carving has benefited me more than I could have wished for. It starts with keeping the mind busy. It keeps the mind thinking about what to do next. After all the necessary pieces are collected, then the use of those quiet muscles come in to play.

Now after all this, "...the fun stuff....carving, sawing, sanding, painting.” Brown's main concern is what to do with his handiwork but he has found that one of his unique jewelry boxes is a welcome gift. “I have found that as a gift for someone for no special reason, that the gift becomes on of their treasures, a pleasure for the receiver and the giver. Over 10 years of making jewelry boxes, I would estimate that I have made and given away about 200 but I've only sold one – at a church auction. It sold for $250.”

About his life, Brown says “It has been a full life; a wife that I love, two homegrown kids who have brought us respect and honor, grandchildren and a great son-in-law. During 59 years of marriage, many ways of living a life have come our way but Donna and I both put our faith, love, and trust in the Lord.” The Browns have recently become part of the Neuro Challenge community and Jerry is busily producing many beautiful and practical carvings that will be used to raise funds for Neuro Challenge. One of his most interesting pieces is a wooden “rug” that looks like a rising sun.

 The Browns recently enjoyed hosting one of their grandsons, taking him fishing – another of Jerry Brown's favorite pastimes. He enjoys the freedom of the open waters and another chance to engage his muscles in healing activity. “I have my up and down days with Parkinson's,” he says. “But I know tomorrow will bring another day to help someone with a piece of wood or the chance to say “hello!” His tip for fellow Parkinson's fighters is to “keep your head up and a smile on your face.”

 


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About the Author

Angela Abu Eita