Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Lawmaker was director of developmental agency

Robert E. Brown, a former director of the Ohio Department of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities who had served in the state House of Representatives and as a school board president, died yesterday in his Whitehouse home. He was 70.

Mr. Brown, formerly of Perrysburg and Put-in-Bay, died from complications of a bone marrow disorder diagnosed 10 years ago, his wife, Tody, said.

A Republican, he was appointed by then-Governor Celeste, a Democrat, to take over the scandal-riven department of mental retardation in 1985. He and his wife are parents of a son with mental retardation. When Mr. Brown took the job, he'd headed an agency in Toledo for people with developmental disabilities and had been in the General Assembly.

“He happens to understand a lot of the current circumstances, so he doesn't underestimate the dimensions of the challenge,” Mr. Celeste said at the time.

A goal of Mr. Brown's was to move residents of state institutions into community settings whenever possible.

“He believed there were an awful lot of people in the institutions who with greater help could operate more happily and less expensively in the community,” his wife said.

Mr. Brown helped arrange Medicaid funding for residential and therapeutic services that “is a significant resource that protects the electorate from property tax escalation,” Fred DeCrescentis, superintendent of the Lucas County board of mental retardation and developmental disabilities, said.

Mr. Brown helped arrange a $1.5 million state grant that allowed the Lucas County board to build a Lott Industries center on Holland Road.

“He was networked throughout the state as a former representative,” Mr. DeCrescentis said. “But he was also a parent-advocate. He understood the plight, the challenges [parents] have raising a son or daughter with a disability, and he never lost that sensitivity.”

Mr. Brown was a strong advocate for a reform bill approved in 1986 that spelled out procedures for local law enforcement agencies to become involved in abuse cases and for prosecution of offenders.

He was not reappointed by the Voinovich administration in 1991.

“It was the most difficult job he ever did, but he wouldn't have changed it,” his wife said. “So much got done.”

Mr. Brown was born in Fremont to Kenneth and Florence Brown. Kenneth Brown was the Sandusky County recorder from 1942 to 1951. He was succeeded by his wife, who served until 1974.

Robert Brown was a graduate of Clyde High School and received a bachelor's degree from Bowling Green State University.

He taught two years at the former Woodville High School and, in 1954, began a 14-year career with the Huron Cement Division of the National Gypsum Co. After, he worked for Lucas County Children Services.

He became executive director of the Zucker Center, a diagnostic and evaluation facility for people with mental disabilities, in 1971. A merger established the Cummings Zucker Center, and he was assistant to the director for a time in the early 1980s.

He was a former president of the Perrysburg board of education. He won election to the Ohio House of Representatives in 1978, succeeding former Speaker of the House Charles Kurfess, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

He was hurt in a two-car crash on April 24, 1979, that killed state Rep. Irma Karmol. Mr. Brown was a passenger in the vehicle; the two legislators were headed to a legislative session in Columbus.

Mr. Brown was re-elected three times - in 1980, 1982, and 1984.

“The legislative experience stayed with him forever - the excitement, the challenge,” his wife said. “He said some days you were changing focus every 15 minutes, talking to different people about different situations. That was good for him.”

He was a former member of the President's Committee on Mental Retardation and was a former president of the United Health Services board. He was a former chairman of the Wood County mental health and mental retardation board and a former member of the Ottawa County board of mental retardation.

He had been a consultant to the St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center psychiatry department.

Mr. Brown received an honorary doctor of public service degree from BGSU in 1991.

Surviving are his wife, Tody, whom he married May 4, 1951; sons, Robert C., Timothy J., David, and Matthew; daughters, Susan E. Hansbarger and Jill Brown, and 11 grandchildren.

The body will be in the Witzler-Shank Mortuary, Perrysburg, after 2 p.m. tomorrow. Services will be at 1 p.m. Tuesday in Hope United Methodist Church, Whitehouse, where the body will be after 11 a.m.

The family requests tributes to Hope United Methodist Church, Zoar Lutheran Church in Perrysburg, Community Residential Services in Toledo, or the Hospice of Northwest Ohio in Perrysburg Township.

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