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Tribute to well-loved educator the late Lionel Brown

Tuesday 18 January 2022 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Features, Go Local

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Tribute to well-loved educator the late Lionel Brown
Lionel Brown, left, and Marjorie Crocombe, the first two graduates from USP Cook Islands marched together again in 2018 at the 50th anniversary graduation. Photo: SUPPLIED/18102515

Lionel Brown, a fun-loving teacher, storyteller and leader to the countless number of students who passed through his classrooms, and a mentor to his work colleagues, passed away in Auckland Hospital on December 7, 2021 at the age of 82.

Because of the travel restrictions and border closures due to Covid-19, his family were unable to return their father home earlier.

One of his daughters Leilani, arrived in Rarotonga on Saturday with her father who will be buried next to his late wife Annie today in Arorangi.

Brown was regarded by many as a tireless educator who dedicated his career of 56 years to Cook Island’s education. He retired from active service as a relief teacher at the age of 77.

In 1968, Brown was the recipient of a scholarship at the University of the South Pacific (USP) in Fiji and graduated in 1971 with a Bachelor of Arts in Education and English. 

Brown was one of the first two USP graduates from the Cook Islands along with Dr Marjorie Crocombe. He was also the first president of the USP Student’s Association.

Brown was a friend in sport, a well-respected member of the Cook Islands community; a loving husband, father and grandfather.

Brown was born in Ureia, Aitutaki on February 6,1939, the son of the late Albert Brown, (former Scottish naval officer and general manager of the merchant store, AB Donald’s) and Virgine (nee) Ta’aroatua Brown from the island of Tahiti. He was better known in Aitutaki as Naero. 

In his formative years, he grew up on the islands of Manihiki and Aitutaki, and later attended New Plymouth Boys High school in New Zealand.

In 1958-1959, he trained at Ardmore Teacher’s Training College in Papakura; in 1960, he took up his first probationary teaching position at Homai Primary School (NZ).

Brown returned to the Cook Islands in 1962 to teach at Avarua Primary School. In 1963, he taught Form 2 at Tereora College and moved to Arorangi Primary School in 1964.

From 1965 – 1967, he taught Form 3 to Form 5 Geography/History, Maths, English, Maori Language and Culture, Physical Education and Music at Tereora College. Also, in 1967, he had a brief attachment with the Cook Islands Assembly (Parliament).

In 1969, he spent four months with Curriculum Development, preparing and printing Grades 1-3 Maori Language Readers, Books 1-75.

While at USP in Fiji, he prepared the Pacific History course for Diploma in Education for teachers in the Pacific region, implementing the course through the USP Extension Centre in 1972.  He also lectured in World Geography to students on the Fiji campus in the Diploma of Education course.

In 1974, he briefly taught at Tereora College before he was appointed acting Inspector and then Inspector of Schools until March 1975.

Brown was then appointed Director of Primary and Pre School Education, inspecting staff and the maintenance of schools with a brief one-month stint as acting Secretary of Education in 1978.

The teaching position that most endeared Brown to many of his students was the 10 years he spent as the principal of Avatea Primary School from 1978 to 1988. 

Former Avatea, now Nikao Primary School, principal Teina Etches (1998-2008) had worked with Brown since her early school teaching days in 1978.

“He got on with everyone - the students and teachers, he was caring to the students and always ready to help in any area and to share his knowledge with other teachers. If you needed help you could approach him, he was a very caring person and very professional,” Etches said.

During this period, Brown also served as the chairman of the Primary Schools Sports Committee and Primary Schools Culture Committee.

From 1990, he was seconded to the Ministerial Implementation Team as deputy chairman to review the education of the Cook Islands.

In his final years as educator from 1991 to 1999, he served as the acting, deputy and Secretary of Education. 

However, after a short two-months of retirement from full-time service, he went back to teaching as a relief teacher for another 17 years, finally retiring in 2016.

Brown endeared himself to many, that he cared enough to remember everyone by their name and to ask after them. His legacy will live on through the successes of his students and for many, he will be remembered as “possibly” their best teacher ever.

His family wish to acknowledge the kindness shown to him in the effort to get him the best health care possible in the final weeks of his life. 

His daughter Leilani said: “Bless all those who went out of their way to come together when help was needed, and to all those who sent in their heart-felt messages. Without community, we could not have managed.”

A service will be held for Brown at 10.30am today at the St. Mary’s Parish in Arorangi followed by the burial in Arorangi (cemetery opposite LMS Church of the Latter-Day Saints).