My Friend Was A Hero

Louis “Skip”Brown was 73.

Skip Brown passed away last Tuesday.He was a friend of this city.

Skip touched a lot of hearts. He gave his all, always. Then he retired to a small town in Alabama.Skip served 20 years as a Delray Beach police officer, gaining local fame for his work with the K-9 unit and later as the  department’s volunteer coordinator back in the days when we had over 1,000 volunteers.Skip gained national recognition for some of his programs especially the Homefront Security group he put together after 9/11.He was a bronze star winner for heroism on the battlefields of Vietnam and he came back to Old School Square to accept the medal which was given 45 years after  he served. He chose me to pin it on him.It was an incredible honor and we did our best to create a special ceremony for him. It was a memorable day for a memorable man.It was the last time I saw him.We had dinner with Skip, his lovely wife Cheryl and former Chief Rick Overman and his wife at Boston’s on the Beach and said goodbye.When he left, he grabbed me, pulled me close and said there was no one else he wanted to put that medal on him and no other place he wanted to accept that long overdue honor than in Delray Beach, at Old School Square.This place touched him. And he really touched this place.P.S. Moments after I placed that medal on his chest he took it off and gave it to the children of a friend so that they could have a reminder of sacrifice and patriotism. The lucky kids were the son and a daughter of a retired firefighter and a local reporter. That was how tightnit this town was, there is a special bond between police and fire. Skip wanted retired Fire Chief Kerry Koen in the Crest Theater for the ceremony. Chief Koen was there sitting next to Chief Overman, a man Skip deeply admired.These are the ties that bind, for a lifetime or a season.

The Bronze Star ceremony at the Crest.

Skip and I had a complicated relationship. Skip was a complicated man.He was impacted by his experiences in Southeast Asia and by his experiences in Delray Beach which was a different town back in the 80s. Skip worked road patrol when Delray was wracked and wrecked by crack cocaine. He had stories and I listened.I was a newspaper reporter in those days and Skip and his wife Cheryl lived around the block from me with their birds and K-9 German shepherds.He had my daughter’s Brownie troop over to his house so they could meet the pets and he once brought Olk and Rambo to my backyard to show a group of neighborhood children the power and the discipline of a highly trained K-9.We used to meet at the end of Skip’s shift in my driveway where we would talk about life and Delray until the wee hours of the morning.We grew close. He referred to me as a brother. And I had great respect for his vision, commitment and dedication to this community and especially the senior citizens he recruited for his volunteer patrols.Many were World War II veterans, members of the Greatest Generation, and in Skip they found a kindred spirit who understood their service and who appreciated their passion to give back.CNN, documentarians, authors and academics came to Delray to take a closer look at the magic that was happening at our Police Department. President Bush greeted one of Skip’s volunteers at PBIA and Gov. Bush came to Old School Square after 9/11 to honor the work being done.When a volunteer got sick, Skip was there—many times at a hospice bed providing comfort and kindness.He was a gruff man. He was big and strong and tough as they get.  But he had a heart of gold. There was a gentleness beneath the surface that we saw and savored.

When he retired, Skip and Cheryl moved to Alabama and we stayed in touch periodically but we grew apart too. Proximity matters, and we were far away. And the bond that we shared—Delray Beach—had frayed. The town changed, the volunteer program wasn’t quite the same, the Greatest Generation began to leave us.Still, we experienced and shaped  a very special era. Every day I’m reminded of what we had and what we’ve lost.But Skip and I stayed friends, until one day we drifted apart for good.

But before we drifted, when I got sick with Covid, Skip reached out with prayers and support. When I made it through the dark days, he talked to me about PTSD and survivors guilt. He told me I was spared for a reason and he sent me articles to help.But we had our differences too. We had different views on guns and presidential candidates.Still, he called me a brother. And then our relationship stopped —abruptly.I do not know what happened. I am left to wonder. We just drifted apart. I’ve been bothered by our inexplicable estrangement. I think about it a lot.And now he’s gone. Just like that. And I have all these questions and no answers.But I do know this, I never stopped caring about my old friend, the man who taught me so much.Right now, I’m saddened by the loss of this special man. I will miss his guitar videos, his love of stray raccoons, his sense of mission and his sense of duty.I’m sharing this personal reminiscence because I blew it when it came to this man.I let our long period of silence persist and now he’s gone.Don’t let that happen to you.Life is a long and bumpy road and along that road we meet fellow travelers.Skip was with me for many miles before we went our separate ways. And now he’s gone. If only I had  one more night with my friend under the streetlights. We could have talked about what we learned. How it all turned out. What was next for us.That won’t happen now.Skip changed my life and the lives of many others.Don’t let those people go. One more lesson Skip Brown taught me. Rest in peace my brother.

Here’s a link to the WPTV Channel 5 News Story about the Bronze Star: https://www.wptv.com/news/region-s-palm-beach-county/delray-beach/retired-delray-policeman-awarded-bronze-star-45-years-after-vietnam?utm_content=bufferc5c4b&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer&fbclid=IwAR1mToGqoK-CULsySdo9F9NTbIAx02FfYm64tdMAtO-XrlcQR4ALZfOMBGE

 

Comments

  1. Frederick Glass says

    Jeff, Very touching. Not unusual for friends to go separate ways over time. Life changes, lives get busy with our goals, jobs, and family. What doesn’t change is the memories we carry with us. Stay strong my friend!

  2. Oh my what a great read

    Thank you

  3. Eric Aronowitz says

    Jeff,
    As usual, well written!! Nice job.

  4. Kerry Koen says

    Those who lived and served during the era of change you describe will always share a bond that is very special. Skip was a key part of it and no matter the miles, he really never “left” Delray. That is probably why he wanted to have the ceremony at “home” with his family, and what a reunon it was. His deeds and touch will live on.

  5. Bill & Sharon Wood says

    Well said Jeff! We have a few enough friends in our lives and even fewer heroes. Skip was both. He will be sorely missed.

  6. Sharon Painter says

    Such true words you wrote and I am sure your story can and will resonate with others. To have friends who are not aligned on all matters but respect each other and remain friends is hard for some to understand. I am sorry for your loss and grateful for our friendship.

  7. Ralph Phillips Jr. says

    Nobody says it better than you Jeff. The story was about Skip, but more importantly, the MESSAGE applies to everyone. So well said. Thank you.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks so much Ralph. Skip and you were part of a very special generation of police officers who turned this town around. We are forever grateful for your service, Jeff.

  8. Bill Smith says

    Jeff, Skip and I work together a long time. More so when he was a canine and I was on Road Patrol. When he was in charge of the volunteer unit I was in traffic so I would work with his volunteers that were in parking enforcement. When my wife and I were on a motorcycle trip we were passing through Alabama so I reached out to Skip to say hi. He and Cheryl insisted we stopped by for lunch. After arriving and we were enjoying lunch they again insisted that we stick around longer and do our laundry at their house. That was great because we got to sit around and visit with them longer than just lunch. I had no idea of your relationship with Skip and I’m happy to hear that you two had grown very close. Your story about your relationship with Skip should inspire everyone to reach out to Old Friends they haven’t heard from in a long time. Skip definitely left his mark on the world.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks for sharing Bill. What a great story and that sounds so much like Cheryl and Skip. Skip was such a special guy and so are you. Your warmth and caring for this city came shining through. We cherish your service.

  9. Allan Edward Lewis says

    Thank you for such a great article. I was very fortunate to have skip in my life. We spoke almost weekly. Skip told me that he was having a problem swallowing. I asked if he was scheduled for an endoscopy. He told me that he was and he’ll tell me the results. The next week, I spoke with skip and he told me that he was diagnosed with Esophageal cancer. Skip told me that he’ll update me when he finds out more. Several days later, we spoke. Skip told me that the cancer metastasized, and he was given 60 days. I was dumfounded. We spoke for a few more minutes. Skip then told me that he loved me and I told him that I loved him. I had the feeling that this would be the last time we would speak. I still can’t get over losing my friend.

    • Jeff Perlman says

      Thanks for sharing this. What a horrific diagnosis and such a big loss. Skip always spoke so highly of you Al. He did love you.

Speak Your Mind

*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.