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Local vendor had a passion for people.

Byline: MATT COOPER The Register-Guard

He was Eugene's popcorn king, selling concessions to hungry downtowners and fairgoers for a half-century.

But the friendliness? Well, F. Morris "Brownie" Brown just gave that away for free.

Truth is, that day-to-day interaction probably meant as much to this venerable downtown fixture as the people he touched. Brown, who died early Monday of cancer at age 87, "could never be around enough people," said Venora Brown, his wife of 51 years. "That was his element."

She was the first to be sucked in, and a city followed.

Venora arrived in Eugene from Oklahoma in 1947, looking for work and a friendly face. The friendliest face, she discovered, belonged to the gentleman in the wheelchair selling popcorn near the old Sears building on West 10th Avenue.

"He was a person you felt like you could talk to," Venora said, "and interested in what you had to say."

The circus was an abiding passion for Brown, and he drew Venora into that, too. He had been mesmerized by the set-up and breakdown since he was a child, and the two of them spent more than one summer morning sitting in the bleachers at 4 a.m., awaiting the arrival of the circus.

Born in Eugene to Earl and Linnie Morris Brown, Brown was disabled at age 6 after being struck by a car. He got by on crutches until his legs quit; then he sold chocolate in the post-World War II years, enough to buy his own wheels - a custom-made wheelchair, hand-crank on the right and a smaller wheel behind that he could use to steer with his left.

Venora found herself smitten not just by Brown's sociability but by his determination to succeed despite his limitations. Paradoxically, it was the wheelchair that liberated Morris Brown.

"When he got his chair that gave him freedom to go out and do this," she said.

"This," of course, was concessions. For 44 years, Morris and Venora Brown sold popcorn, chili dogs and caramel corn downtown - first at West 10th and later on Broadway, between Olive and Willamette, until his retirement in 1991.

The Browns also became a cornerstone at the Lane County Fair, where their "Pronto Pups" - like a corn dog, and cooked upright for evenness - were the rage. This year's fair, in fact, marked the stand's 50th anniversary, an accomplishment that the fair recognized in renaming the food-vendor's award in Brown's honor.

"Brownie was certainly an icon," said Linda Smith, sales and events manager. `I had numerous people over many years say to me, `That's not the same Brown that used to have the old popcorn stand by the Sears building?' All of us in our 50s grew up seeing Brownie downtown.'

Brown was too sick to run his stand this year, said Dottie Chase, a vendor and longtime friend. After the fair's finish Sunday, an employee and close friend came to Brown's side at a care center and told him the event had ended; Brown was gone within minutes. "We all just figured that he was just waiting to hear that," Venora said.

"He stayed until the end of the fair," Chase added. "He always honored his contract."

A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday at the First Church of the Nazarene, 727 W. Broadway.

The calls have been coming in to Venora by the dozens, and she's starting to wonder whether the church will be big enough. There are quite a few people out there, she said, who might consider themselves a friend of Morris Brown.

Chase said: "So many of the people who are here now remember him from when they were a child. There was an expectation that he would be there forever. Eugene has lost a part of its nostalgic history."

CAPTION(S):

F. Morris "Brownie" Brown at his snack bar on the day it closed, Dec. 30, 1991.
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Title Annotation:General News
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Aug 22, 2002
Words:650
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