George Brown, who graduated from Booker T. Washington in 1956, grew up in a Memphis that still was years away from stamping out the last vestiges of segregation.
It’s a starting point that makes the arc of his life and career all the more remarkable. From that beginning, Brown went on to become a pillar in the city’s legal community.
He’s a retired Shelby County Circuit Court judge, and he was the first black justice on the Tennessee Supreme Court. And he’s still working today, both in private business as well as in legal circles.
Next week, he’ll be joined by some of his old school friends and lawyers from around the city to mark a symbolic milestone in his life: A ceremony to unveil Brown’s official portrait will be held Nov. 15 in the lobby of Downtown’s Brinkley Plaza.
The ceremony is scheduled for 4 p.m. Hors d’oeuvres from Felicia Suzanne’s will be served, and all members of the legal profession have been invited to attend.
There’s a tendency to mark awards like this as “lifetime achievement” kinds of honors, given when one is closer to the end of a career than the beginning. And even Brown slips into the past tense here and there. But he quickly corrects himself.
“I began my life here in Memphis in the throes of segregation, and as I reflect back, I’ve had – well, I’m having a wonderful life and a wonderful career,” Brown said. “And more importantly, I have been honored by the citizens of Memphis and my peers to have an extensive public service career as well as an extensive professional career. So it’s humbling, really. I’m glad I’ve been able to serve my fellow man in various capacities. I’ve tried to be an inspiration for others to follow in the same path.”
Brown was a Circuit Court judge from 1983 to 2005. He also was one of the first executive directors of Memphis Area Legal Services.
Since his retirement, though, he hasn’t lived the life of a retiree. He’s still participating in mediation and arbitration cases, and he travels frequently because of that.
“It keeps my brain exercised,” Brown says, a bit self-effacingly, with a nod to some of his peers on Memphis’ political scene who’ve exited the limelight and have slowed down considerably.
“I’ve just had a good run. I’m still having a good run.”
Brown was born in 1939. Outside of his legal work, today he’s also a co-owner of Memphis Chemical, a minority-owned business that was founded in 1968 and employs 17 people.
It was bought by its current owners in 2000. The business is a distributor of janitorial supplies, cleaning equipment, chemicals, paper goods and related products. Its product offerings have expanded to include office products, office furniture, industrial supplies and safety products.
The company mainly focuses on business-to-business activity in all market sectors including private companies, some federal government customers, education and public companies.
About his portrait that will be unveiled next week, Brown already is describing it as an experience that will be humbling.
“You look at the artist’s work, and while it represents you – it represents me in this case – really, it represents a lot of people,” Brown said.