In memory

Malcolm Spencer Brown

Submitted by ANNE LARSEN
Posted 11/16/21

[Editor’s note: For a soft-spoken and retiring sort of presence, Malcolm Brown had an amazing influence on the Upper Delaware River Valley. He had a focus on generating information and …

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In memory

Malcolm Spencer Brown


[Editor’s note: For a soft-spoken and retiring sort of presence, Malcolm Brown had an amazing influence on the Upper Delaware River Valley. He had a focus on generating information and understanding. He fostered connections between people, connections with the earth and the earth’s systems. He also had a certain energy that, when you were in his presence, you knew he would accomplish what he set out to do: Live life fully. Love life completely. Work with others to accomplish these goals.

Well done, Malcolm.  — Laurie Stuart]

Malcolm Spencer Brown passed from this life with courage and purpose on November 3, 2021. He died peacefully at home, with myself and his daughter Melissa by his side.

A Renaissance man, Malcolm moved easily from philosophy to mathematics to environmental and social justice work. An emeritus professor of Greek philosophy at Brooklyn College and a scholar on the works of Plato, Malcolm was also a pioneer in renewable energy and community-led public radio.

Born in Beirut, Lebanon, to missionary doctors Roswell and Enid Crump Brown, on February 27, 1932, Malcolm was raised in Buffalo, NY, and married three times. With his first wife, Carol Gardner, he had three children: Duncan, Charlotte, and Lydia. With his second, Virginia Hayden, he had two: Melissa and Greg. He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Anne Larsen; his brother Norm and family: Carol, Duncan and Lydia Brown; Virginia Brown; Melissa Brown Neubauer, her husband Kurt, and grandchildren Tess and Alec Neubauer. Also surviving are special friends Kevin and Barbara Gref. He is predeceased by his son Greg, his daughter Charlotte, and his granddaughter Haley.

Malcolm graduated from Amherst College in 1953, received his doctorate from Columbia and taught philosophy. In 1970, he spent a year as fellow at the Center for Hellenic Studies in D.C., pursuing his research into mathematics at the Old Academy. At CUNY, he was a pioneer in integrating computers in humanities research and through the 1970s arduously transliterated Greek to machine-readable form. He published a word concordance to Euclid and other ancient authors using modems, mainframes and aided by his student and lifelong friend, Philippe Charles.

After marrying Anne, Malcolm took early retirement, moving to an “unrenovated” barn with scant running water, wood heat, and an outhouse in New York’s Catskill Mountains. There he farmed, kept up to 60 beehives, and started another phase of his life. He and Anne developed a micro-hydro facility on a small dam in Jeffersonville, NY, negotiated a contract with the utility company, and founded community public radio station WJFF on adjacent land in 1990, thereby creating the only directly hydro-powered station in the nation. Malcolm joined in the physical labor on all his projects alongside construction workers and many volunteers, and when it was time to hang the transmitter, he climbed the tower with the engineer.

After several years, they moved to Hull, MA, where Malcolm championed wind power and was elected to the Light Board on a renewable energy platform. The first commercial-sized turbine on the East Coast, Hull Wind 1, started producing power in 2001, followed by the first turbine on a capped landfill, Hull Wind 2.

In later years, Malcolm returned to his scholarly work, researching at Harvard University and visiting manuscript collections and scholars. His interest in computerized open access led him to facilitate the digitization of Venetus T at the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. His scholarship continued to the end, with the last posting to his website in summer 2021.

Some might be tempted to reduce Malcolm’s greatest power to his intellect alone, based on his razor-sharp mind and seemingly endless access to the data stored within. It would be a mistake to discount his other charms, which included gifts traditionally attributed to the right brain. He taught himself to whittle wood into art pieces, including a set of figural chess pieces; he sang with a choir; taught himself to play the recorder; devised his own hand-made sundials (including one made by slicing a tennis ball in half); and solved every manner of life’s puzzles with his own creatively engineered tools. He was greatly protective of others’ feelings. He was playful and sly and took pleasure in wordplay and gentle teasing. He was not shy to express his love and approached all people with kindness, interest and respect.

A social justice activist, he put his body on the line repeatedly, including in his 80s at the massive 2017 anti-Trump Women’s March. He was ahead of his time in many things, from recycling in the ‘70s to driving electric cars in the ‘90s, to his present plug-in Volt.

As a human, he was singular and unique, and will be sorely missed by the many who loved and admired him.

There will be no funeral or visitation. A future life celebration is planned. To be informed, email Memorial contributions can be made to Catskill Mountain Institute dba The Malcolm Brown Institute for Purposeful Living, PO Box 567, Jeffersonville, NY, 12748 ( the ACLU or plant a tree in his honor.

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