Martha Ella Perkins Brown died suddenly after a brief illness on May 23, 2020, at FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital in Pinehurst, NC. She was ninety-six years old.
A family graveside service will be held at Steele Creek Presbyterian Church, Charlotte, NC, at a later date, and a celebration of her life will be held when circumstances permit.
Martha was born on a tobacco farm near Goldsboro, NC, in Wayne County, on April 9, 1924, the fifth of six children and only daughter of Isaac Thomas and Mamie Aycock Perkins. As members of the Society of Friends, her parents instilled in Martha their Quaker pacifism, embracing the sanctity of life and the worth, dignity, and potential of every human being. On the family farm she learned hard work and self-sufficiency, values she passed on to her children and grandchildren, as she did her zeal for education. From her five beloved brothers she enjoyed lifelong love and mutual support, and from them learned a spirit of competition and fair play.
In 1945 she earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Primary Education from Western Carolina State Teachers College, now Western Carolina University. While at Western Carolina she was active in many facets of curricular and co-curricular campus life, was elected to leadership positions in student government, and was elected to Who’s Who Among Students in Colleges and Universities. Upon graduation she embarked on a teaching career of more than twenty years in the public schools of North Carolina and Virginia.
While teaching in Duplin County, NC, first at B.F. Grady and later at Wallace, she met her husband, Benjamin F. Brown, a Presbyterian minister, whom she married in 1948. Martha was committed to living her faith, and she was an active participant in all phases of church life: singing alto in church choirs, teaching Bible School and Sunday School, hosting circle meetings, organizing meals for shut-ins, visiting the sick and the grieving, sheltering infants who were placed at the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina, and feeding homeless and itinerate individuals and families who stopped at the manses. She fondly recalled pastorates in Wallace, NC, where her daughter, Joy, was born; in Glade Spring, VA, where Ben had five “preaching points” and where her twins, Emma and Ben, were born; at the historic Alamance Presbyterian Church near Greensboro, NC; in Mebane, NC; and later at Memorial Presbyterian Church in Greensboro, NC. Additionally, she supported Ben in his administrative role as Executive Secretary (later Executive Presbyter) of Abingdon, then Highland, Presbytery, in Virginia, accompanying him to the eighty-plus churches in the Presbytery, often playing the piano when he preached at small churches in the coal fields of southwest Virginia. She was the consummate “minister’s wife.”
Martha continued teaching during those years in Guilford and Alamance Counties in NC, as well as in Washington County, VA; later, after Ben’s retirement to Southern Pines, NC, she had her final teaching post in Aberdeen in the Moore County Schools. She was an ardent supporter of public education, believing that equal access to excellent public schools is a hallmark of democracy. She was proud to be a teacher, and hundreds of schoolchildren whom she taught lived up to her high expectations.
Two years after Ben’s sudden and unexpected death in 1980, Martha married James C.P. Brown, a minister in the North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church. Again, she proved an able and enthusiastic “help meet” for James in his pastorate in Rockingham, NC, in his role as District Superintendent of the Sanford District, and in his final pastorate in Wilmington, NC. After James’s retirement, they moved to Southern Pines, and later to Scotia Village in Laurinburg, NC, before making their final home at Penick Village in Southern Pines. In their retirement, they enjoyed traveling to many places both in the United States and around the world, always open to new experiences and to making new friendships. They entered fully into the community life of both retirement homes, with Martha’s organizing Scrabble games for residents at Scotia, playing the piano for weekly Eucharist services in Skilled Nursing at Penick, and engaging in lively conversations with staff and residents, always making connections, always listening with interest to people’s stories.
Martha was preceded in death by her parents; by her brothers, Albert Nathan Perkins, Theodore Edison Perkins, Thurman Thomas Perkins, Alan Kimrey Perkins, and Khan Vail Perkins; by her husbands, the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Franklin Brown and the Rev. James Collins Parker Brown; by her grandson Edward Craig Cushman; and by her step-daughter, Carol Marie Brown Hosseini.
She is survived by her daughter Joy Perkins Brown Cushman and husband, Robert Gale Cushman, Jr., of Shelby, NC; her daughter Emma Gallant Brown Richardson and husband, Dr. Thomas Charles Richardson, of Columbus, MS; and her son, Benjamin Franklin Brown, Jr., and wife, Barbara Ruth Lyons Brown, of Covington, LA; by her stepson the Rev. Wesley Freeland Brown and wife, Jane Gouldin Brown, of Durham, NC; her stepson James Russell Brown of Chicago, IL; and her stepdaughter, Virginia M. Brown Gray, and husband, James Frank Gray, of Ocean Isle Beach, NC. Also surviving are Martha’s grandchildren, Robert Brown Cushman and wife, Alena Gordon Cushman, of Lake Cormorant, MS; Dr. Benjamin Lyons Brown and wife, Courtney Celeste Danos Brown of Covington, LA; Dr. Cameron Brown Richardson Howard and husband, the Rev. Edward Cader Howard, Jr., of Stillwater, MN; Dr. Emily Lyons Brown of New Orleans, LA; Dr. Katherine Lyons Brown Vasquez and husband, Andrew Christopher Vasquez, of Madisonville, LA; Thomas Brown Richardson and wife, Hillary Ann Hamblen Richardson, of Columbus, MS; by four step-grandchildren, Jonathan Churchill Brown and wife, Sharon Albach Brown, of Huntersville, NC; Parker Winston Brown of Raleigh, NC; Justin Edward Gray of Raleigh, NC; and Bryce Ashevar Hosseini of Monroe, NC. Additionally, Martha is survived by eight great-grandchildren: Lia Grace Cushman and Caden Brown Cushman, Caroline Celeste Brown and Benjamin Thomas Brown, Isaac Cader Howard and Anna Charlotte Howard, Emma Marie Vasquez, Emmett Alexander Richardson, and by two step-great-grandchildren, Adelyn Jane Brown and Miller Collins Brown.
Martha is also survived by her sister-in-law Eugenia Eckerd Perkins of Greensboro, NC, by Ben’s and James’s extended families, and by many nieces and nephews, who were loving and faithful in their attentions to her during her final years.
During the last five years of Martha’s life, she was supported by her dedicated and loving caregiver, Linda Oswalt.
Wherever she lived, Martha’s home was one that offered warm hospitality and where no man or woman was a stranger, where family and guests enjoyed large meals and lively conversations, where there was much music and fun and laughter. She died “old and sated with days,” days filled with much joy and much love.
Memorials may be made to Southern Pines United Methodist Church, 175 Midland Road, Southern Pines, NC 28387.
Online condolences may be left at www.bolesfuneralhome.com.
Services entrusted to Boles Funeral Home of Southern Pines.