James B Brown

James B. Brown, age 90, passed away on February 20, 2024. A true gentlemen, he was friendly to all and a friend to many. He woke up every morning with a positive attitude, happy to be alive and ready to conquer the world. He did not suffer from a lack self-confidence or lack of purpose. And his can-do attitude and gregarious personality were infectious.

Born on December 14, 1933, he was the eighth of 13 births to his parents Henry and Josephine Rebecca Brown. They ran a family farm in Freestone County, Texas where he grew up working alongside his siblings, plowing fields behind horses and mules and picking cotton, the latter of which he hated. One of his greatest motivations for pursuing a college education was so he would never have to pick cotton again! He was rambunctious and mischievous and his siblings were often the victims of his pranks.

Upon graduation from Fairfield High School in 1951 Jim enlisted in the US Air Force where his natural leadership skills were recognized and developed. While home on leave he met the love of his life and wife of 67 years, Wanda June Hullum. They married in September 1954 and after mustering out of the service he enrolled at the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas, now Texas A&M University, in the fall of 1955. In three years he earned a degree in Electrical Engineering graduating as an honor student in 1958. He was proud to be a Texas Aggie and was always appreciative of the opportunities and brotherhood his degree afforded him.

Jim’s first job after college was as Staff Engineer and Assistant to the Vice President of Brook Hollow Industrial Park and Empire Central Office Park in Dallas, Texas. After five years, he was presented with an opportunity to start a new office and industrial park in Orlando, FL. In March of 1963 he moved his family to Orlando and began a career with Orlando Central Park, Inc., a subsidiary of Martin Marietta, now Lockheed Martin. During his tenure what was once a cow pasture became a mixed-use development of over 3,500 acres. It was the first planned development of its kind in the Orlando area and set standards for future commercial development. His team also developed Plaza International, the stretch of International Drive that includes the Orange County Convention Center.

Upon retirement from Orlando Central Park he had a second career working for his friend and fellow outdoorsman Richard McCree of McCree General Contractors and Architects, serving as Director of Business Development.

His priorities were faith, family, friends and community. He and his family first attended Delaney Street Baptist Church on Easter Sunday of 1963, and it soon became the center of his spiritual and social life and the source of many of his closest friendships. He was active in the church, teaching Sunday School and serving as a deacon among other leadership roles. His life of service and generosity were a testament to his faith and lived Christian values.

He was an enthusiastic promotor of Orlando and was involved with the Orlando Chamber of Commerce for many years serving as President in 1982. He chaired the chamber committee that created the Economic Development Commission of Mid-Florida in 1977, and while serving as President, appointed an independent committee that created the Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau now known as Visit Orlando.

He was instrumental in the passage of the Tourist Development Tax or “Bed Tax”, and as President of Orlando Central Park, he lobbied to locate the Orange County Convention Center at the intersection of I-4 and SR528. His team’s plan included donation of the land for the first phase of construction along with below-market options to purchase additional land for expansion. The I-4 site was chosen by the County, and the Convention Center then became the anchor for a 722 acre master planned, mixed-use development along International Drive known as Plaza International. It provided for hotels, restaurants, retail and other uses to support the needs of the Convention Center. Subsequently, Orlando Central Park partnered with the Belz family to build the Peabody Orlando, the first hotel directly serving the convention center. As a result, conventions and tradeshows became a new and important sector of the local economy.

Jim was a community builder who loved to work with others to meet the challenges and opportunities facing Orlando. In addition to Chamber activities, his civic service included the Sertoma Club of Orlando, support for the South Branch YMCA and the Pine Castle Center for the Arts, and serving on the Orange County Citizen’s Commission for Children, among others. After retirement from Orlando Central Park he continued to serve the community as President of the Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau, as a member of the Tourist Development Council and as Chairman of the Citizens’ Oversight Committee for Phase V of the Convention Center.

He was an active member of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, served on the SunTrust Bank Board – Central Park Branch, and was a founding member and past president of the Central Florida Chapter of NAIOP, the organization representing the commercial real estate industry at the local and national levels.

Jim had two great passions: his family and turkey hunting. Together, he and Wanda raised three children, Barry, Susan and Lydia. His pride and joy were his five grandchildren Rachael, Natalie, James, Will and Clarke and he had a special relationship with each of them. He was always up for a trip, adventure or event involving his grandchildren. He had close friendships with his and Wanda’s siblings and their spouses, and he enjoyed relationships with his many nieces and nephews. He and Wanda often hosted out-of-town relatives for Orlando vacations as well as many gatherings for family and friends at their retreats in the Florida woods and Northern New Mexico mountains.

An outdoorsman since boyhood, Jim loved to hunt and fish and in the late 70’s he was introduced to turkey hunting by his friend Sonny Bishop. It became his passion/obsession and for decades he followed the Spring Gobbler season across the country from Florida to Texas to New Mexico with occasional hunts in Mississippi, Missouri, and Mexico. This Spring many gobblers rested easier knowing that Jim Brown was not in the woods!

While at times he had a stern bearing, sometimes being compared to a Marine Drill Instructor, Jim was kind, loving and generous, often helping others without recognition and serving as a mentor to many. His legacy is that of an honorable man who lived his life guided by his faith and principals of integrity, commitment and loyalty. He loved deeply and openly with many hugs and kisses. May his memory be a blessing.

He is survived by his son Barry Brown; daughters Susan Bantis (Charlie) and Lydia Kiser (Jeff); sisters Doris Lilly and Gloria Cowart; and grandchildren Rachael Hornock (Colin), Natalie Weimer (Ricky), James Bantis, Will Kiser and Clarke Kiser.

The family extends a special appreciation to his friends and caregivers for their love and support.

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