Obituary: Sydney “Syd” Brown

Artist, educator, visionary

Longtime Claremont resident Donald Sydney “Syd” Brown died in his sleep of complications from heart disease on Sunday, October 2, 2016 at Mt. San Antonio Gardens. He was 91.

He was born in Oakland on May 10, 1925, the second of four children, to Marjorie Hirst and Harry Brown. He spent his early years in the Menlo Park and Palo Alto areas. Syd was born into a flying family; his father was a WW1 flying ace, which inspired his lifelong love of flying.

Moving to Claremont in 1939, he graduated from Claremont High in 1942. After attending Chaffey Junior College, he enlisted in the army and trained in B-29 bombers. He began his professional career in Portland, Oregon in advertising and window display where he met fellow Claremonter Arlene Bradley. Returning to Claremont, they married and had a daughter, Pam. 

Mr. Brown enrolled in Pomona College on the GI Bill, graduating with the class of 1952 with a major in art. He taught art and science in the Ontario-Montclair School District. He married Cathie Moon in 1957. They had two daughters, Susie and Sharon. Syd continued his career in art, receiving a master’s degree in art education from Claremont Graduate School and becoming an inspirational teacher and advocate for arts in education. He was the director of the gifted programs for the Ontario-Montclair School District for many years.

Mr. Brown had many interests and anyone who knew him was inspired by his creativity, ingenuity and a love of learning that endured throughout his life. He was an avid student of languages and history, and always impressed his grandchildren with his mastery of current technology. His creative skills—which he used to design homes, textiles, party invitations and table decorations—were legendary. He was always a man ahead of his time, and his vision for products and ideas was remarkable. His creativity was not only aesthetic but practical. For example, he crafted a stylish raincoat of plastic sheeting trimmed with matching fabric to protect a daughter’s prom dress on a rainy night and created a papier-mâché Bugs Bunny head for another daughter’s Halloween costume. 

Syd had a great sense of humor—he loved to laugh and tell stories. Some of the family’s fondest memories are of him telling and retelling their favorites jokes. Family shared that he had a twinkle in his eye and was a sentimental softie at heart. Easily brought to tears by sharing a thing of beauty, a song or a story, he will be greatly missed. It is a tribute to him that his grandchildren continue to be inspired by his curiosity, zest for life and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

He is survived by his wife Cathie, his daughters Pam (John Rutledge), Susie (Mark Doris) and Sharon (Mike Witte) and his grandchildren.

A celebration of life will be held Saturday, November 5 at 2 p.m. at the Pomona College Studio Art Hall in the Pamela Creighton Gray Space Room #206, 370 Columbia Ave. in Claremont. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Pomona College Art Department, 305 N. College Ave, Claremont, CA  91711, or to a charity of your choice.


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