Former state Rep. Joe E. Brown, who died in 1985, was honored Saturday with a ceremony, during which a section of Interstate 95, from exit 76, north to Bryan County, was dedicated in his name.
The event was held at Holton’s Seafood Restaurant in Midway, where friends, family and elected officials gathered to remember Brown’s life and his many contributions.
Rep. Al Williams, D-Midway, and 1st District congressional candidate Buddy Carter, a former state senator from Pooler, worked to pass a legislative resolution establishing the Joe E. Brown Memorial Highway.
Brown was born Nov. 27, 1928, in Emmanuel County. After the death of his father, Brown and his four older siblings moved back to their mother’s hometown in Liberty County. Brown’s first job, at age 16, was working for the highway department. Former Mayor Buddy DeLoach described Brown as always having a job and making contributions to the community as a young person. Before becoming a licensed surveyor, Brown worked to clear land for surveying.
Former Georgia Department of Transportation Commissioner Tom Moreland said, “Joe and I were members of the team that had the opportunity to get the interstate highway built. He was an outstanding engineer, surveyor and then did something unique. He transferred function and rose to the highest level you could go as right-of-way (engineer). Joe told me once that he walked the entire highway from Florida to South Carolina.”
As the right-of-way engineer, Brown supervised the interstate and was entrusted with taxpayer money, allotted to the GDOT by the General Assembly, to buy property for highway construction and completion.
“For that, you’ve got to be honest, smart, not devious — and it sure does help if you got a good personality. And that pretty much describes Joe Brown. He did a great job,” Moreland said. “On the personal side, Joe would act cool and calm, but underneath he was paddling hard and was a very intense person.”
Interstate 95 was built through the lowland along the marshes. It sits in a unique location, and those attending Saturday’s ceremony reiterated that Brown was essential in preserving the natural beauty of the land.
Sarah Brown, the honoree’s wife of 37 years, recalled when Brown showed her the highway before it officially opened to the public. He took her to the areas where he and his crew encountered a hornets’ nest and snakes while clearing the land. Brown was hands-on as he oversaw the highway’s completion, said Sarah Brown, who described her husband as a busy man who remained active until the end.
“He always told friends that retirement was the best thing ever invented, but Joe actually never retired. He was active all the way through his life,” she said. “I believe the most important job he had was when he served you in the House of Representatives, and he was dedicated.”
After serving as right-of-way engineer at GDOT for 34 years, Brown retired in 1979, and in 1982 was elected to the House.
Representing Hinesville and the 154th District, Brown served on the Retirement Industry and Defense Veteran Affairs Committee. He took his responsibilities seriously, once venturing into dangerous, icy weather to attend a legislative session.
The legislative resolution, read aloud by Carter, said, “Brown exhibited extraordinary devotion to duty, outstanding loyalty, leadership and meticulous attention in all his duties.”
“Of course, he never forgot his highway buddies,” Sarah Brown said. “He would always have to go to the highway office and see what was going on. He didn’t want to miss anything going on over there. I’m sorry that Joe couldn’t be here to see this, but somehow I think he knows.”
First Congressional District State Transportation Board Member Ann R. Purcell, who presided over the ceremony, said that it was an honor to participate in the memorial.
“He was very instrumental in many of the things we enjoy today in our community and state. I’m always excited to honor those that have been such a contributor to what is happening, and Mr. Joe is one those contributors,” she said.
“Joe E. Brown leaves a legacy for this community. He saw it from every conceivable angle, and when we go out on the interstate, what more fitting to do than to name a section of the road that he had so much to do with,” Williams said.
Sarah Brown and her children, Karen Stagmeier and Liberty County Administrator Joey Brown, were presented with their own copies of the sign that will be displayed along the highway in Brown’s honor.
After the ceremony, friends and family enjoyed lunch provided by Holton’s. They shared stories, greeted each other and admired a display table showcasing mementos from Brown’s life.
His achievements included serving in the National Guard, retiring with the rank of lieutenant colonel and being the county’s first Boy Scout to obtain the Eagle Scout status.