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Barber gave ‘food for the soul and brain’

  • The late Egmont Brown

Longtime St George’s barber Egmont Reginald Brown was a cut above the rest.

His counsel was valued by political leaders and he was honoured by the Queen, but Mr Brown, who died last month aged 82, was also remembered as a battler for civil rights and for his generosity to people in need.

One of ten children, Mr Brown had a tough start to his own life — his father died before he reached his teens and he had to leave school to help to support his family.

His sister, Rosanne Brown Thomas, said: “He used to deliver groceries for Mr Johnny Smith and said he was so young, he couldn’t even reach the pedals. My mother used to say ‘you are the man of the family now’. He had to do all of that.

“He gave my mother his pay from the day he left school to the time he got married.

“He was really a family-oriented person and helpful to anybody. I used to say that half of St George’s owed him money — somebody corrected me and told me half of Bermuda owed him money because if he could help you, he would.”

Mr Brown, who ran Brown’s Barber Shop on Blacksmith’s Hill, was also a founding member of the town’s Progressive Labour Party branch and kept an interest in politics throughout his life.

Also known as “Reggie”, “Brownie”, “Eggie”, “Tojo”, “Deacon” and “Peanut” Brown, he went on to work at Spurling’s meat market and the US airbase as a butcher.

He was also a security guard at the old St George’s Hotel and St George’s Club, but it was always his ambition to own his own barber shop.

When he opened Brown’s Barber Shop, he eventually fulfilled that dream.

Despite his long hours at work, Mr Brown would spend any spare time he had giving free haircuts to troubled boys at the former junior training school on Nonsuch Island and patients at the hospital. He would also feed his customers food from “a pot in the back room” and many benefited from his “financial assistance and mentoring”.

Ms Brown Thomas said: “He was very popular. People said that was the barber shop — if you wanted to know anything you go down here because he could tell you anything. He was well versed, he read everything.”

Lifelong friend Myron Brangman added: “He was the top barber in St George’s and the shop was like a meeting place to talk about politics, sport — everything.

“He was like a banker down there, guys would borrow money off of him; he was everything to everyone. He liked spending time out in his yard doing gardening and always had food and refreshments in the shop.

“You didn’t go there for ten minutes — you would spend an hour or two just to sit off and talk about the latest topic. He was a genuinely nice guy.”

Former PLP premier Dame Jennifer Smith, who spoke at Mr Brown’s funeral, said he was one of a group of five who persuaded her to run as a candidate in the 1972 General Election.

She said at the service that Mr Brown was “a man who believed that black Bermudians should be in charge of their own welfare”.

Dame Jennifer added: “When you went to Reggie’s Barber Shop, you got educated on local politics. In other words, at Reggie’s you got food for the soul and brain along with food for the body.

“In particular, Reggie was known for his kindness. He would give you the shirt off his back — not because you made him but because he wanted to.”

Dame Jennifer said Mr Brown and four others visited her home on York Street 45 years ago to talk her into entering politics.

She added: “The group — a subgroup within the PLP St George’s Branch — consisted of Ernest ‘Dickie’ Drew, Lynn Paynter, Earl ‘Sharkie’ Simmons, my cousin Louis Ming and Egmont ‘Reggie’ Brown.

“Every person who ran for the PLP during those days was taking a personal risk. They often lost their jobs and/or their house. Accordingly, it was not always easy.

“We have lost an irreplaceable warrior on the front lines who lived a life of kindness while fighting for civil rights.”

Former United Bermuda Party leader Kim Swan, now PLP MP for St George’s West, said: “Mr Brown was a man who commanded respect when you were in his presence. He had a magnetic personality and his acumen as a businessman and a barber encouraged men to gravitate towards his establishment.

“Mr Egmont Brown stood tall in the St George’s community as a voice of reason with a far-reaching political influence that was respected across the political divide and appreciated at the highest political office in Bermuda.”

Former OBA MP and ex-St George’s mayor Kenneth Bascome said Mr Brown gave him his first haircut and he also gave him professional advice.

Mr Bascome added: “Over the years he has been a great friend to me personally.

“He is like an icon in the community — the community of Bermuda. He was very supportive of me when I was a member of the Corporation of St George and when I became the mayor. I have a deep respect for him. He will be a miss in the community.”

Mr Brown was awarded the Queen’s Certificate and Badge of Honour in the 2000 New Year’s Honours List.

He is survived by wife Betty Ann Brown, daughters Collette Brown and Sandra Robinson (Brown) and brothers and sisters Gloria, Una (Llewellyn), June, Roseanne, Olga, Beulah, Gladwin and Calvin. Sister Winifred predeceased him.