Pat Brown pauses to consider a question about how he has changed across thirty-nine years at UVM. Outside the windows of his Davis Center office, the sidewalks begin to fill with students at class change. “My hair is shorter; I still haven’t shaved,” he concludes. 

Indeed, the thousands of students/now alumni Brown influenced across his decades leading UVM Student Life (four years as assistant director, thirty-five as director) would still recognize him by his scruffy beard, now more white than red. If not that, then his John Lennon wire-rims and the Hawaiian shirt of a Fort Lauderdale born-and-raised surfer whose heart never left the beach. 

Brown retired in June and is likely harvesting a sizable garlic crop in his Williston garden right about now. 

Throughout his career at Student Life, Brown fostered and led a track of learning complementary to the undergrad academic experience. What is Student Life? Outing Club, WRUV, The Vermont Cynic, Greek Life, Program Board, Alternative Spring Break, and the Student Government Association, to name just a few. These are places where students find fun and friendship, yes, but many also discover a career path or a broadening of perspective that shapes the rest of their lives. 

“The work that we do in our office, we can put all kinds of names to it…” Brown says. Retirement on the horizon will make a guy mist up; he reaches for a Kleenex, then continues. “We’re all teachers. We’re educators. If we’re doing our jobs right, we do some programs for students, but we do a heck of a lot of work with students who are creating their own programs.”

Finding the sweet spot between guidance and empowerment is what it’s all about. “I don’t know if any of that philosophy or approach has changed over thirty-nine years,” Brown says. “That’s part of the reason I’ve stayed. I think that UVM is a pretty cool environment for putting a lot of expectations on students, asking them to respond at a level that is sometimes really challenging, but hopefully they are going to learn from that.”

As alumni and colleagues shared thoughts about Brown this spring, many mentioned his humor, wisdom, patience, and skill at gently opening minds, nudging a think and a re-think. Seth Moeller ’89 put it simply: “Pat was one of the first people to treat me as an adult.” 

—Thomas Weaver

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Thomas Weaver