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November 9, 2012

Friends cope with deaths of Franklin couple

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — Friends and associates of Wendy and Willis Brown struggled Thursday to grasp the loss of the couple in an apparent murder-suicide at their Franklin home.

Meanwhile, Delaware County deputies said they continued an investigation into the deaths of the local professor and the financial adviser without finding a reason for the double shooting.

Delaware County deputies received a call at about 6:45 a.m. Wednesday and found the bodies of the couple after they arrived at the house on Main Street in the village.

Willis Brown, 58, apparently shot his wife, also 58, before turning the rifle on himself, deputies said.

Undersheriff Craig DuMond said Thursday that the investigation, including interviews with relatives, friends and associates, hadn’t revealed a motive for the crime. He withheld other details about the investigation pending results from autopsies, which were being conducted at Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton.

Dumond said the investigation included looking into the postings on canoetripping.net.

Willis Brown, site administrator, posted on the “What’s New” tab at 6:34 a.m. Wednesday a message that said “I” am Sorry Good by’’ and a link to www.thedailystar.com.

The posting prompted about 30 replies, including some expressing shock, sadness and sympathies.

Willis Brown said in his biographical that he “has been married to the same woman for more than 30 years. We have two wonderful sons.” Interests listed were canoeing, mostly solo, camping, fishing, hunting, hiking and target shooting. In an Oct. 29 thread, he posted that he would be interested in a canoeing trip in May.

Willis Brown was an assistant professor of applied sciences and building technologies at the State University College of Technology at Delhi, and Wendy Brown was a financial adviser with the Morgan McReynolds Group at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney in Oneonta.

A memorial service for Wendy and Willis Brown will be held at the Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center on Market Street in Oneonta at 3 p.m. Sunday, funeral director Les Grummons said. Calling hours will be at the Lester R. Grummons Funeral Home at 14 Grand St., in the city, from 3 to 5 p.m. Saturday, he said.

The Browns, well-known among the 500 residents in the village of Franklin, touched the lives of many in neighboring communities, associates at SUNY Delhi and the Oneonta Rotary Club said Thursday. 

Wendy Brown was a quiet person who showed leadership behind the scenes in Rotary and community projects, associates said.

In Oneonta on Thursday, the Oneonta Rotary Club suspended business during its regular luncheon meeting Thursday in respect to Wendy Brown, who as vice president was in line to be president next year.

“She was just absolutely beloved,” Oneonta Rotary President Paul Patterson said.

Dr. Robert Davidson, a Rotarian, spoke of Brown’s winsome smile and pointed comments before offering a prayer and saying how much she will be missed.

The Rev. Judith Thistle, director of the chaplaincy program at A.O. Fox Memorial Hospital in Oneonta, was invited specifically to speak to members about coping with Wendy Brown’s death.

Thistle told Rotarians that in the grieving process they may experience denial, anger and depression before reaching acceptance. The “whys” about the deaths, she said, will arise during the next year’s club activities.

“We need answers to help us accept what has happened,” Thistle said. “In this circumstance, you will never get the answers you need. … A very hard thing is to live without the answers — the answers are known only to God.”

However, the gift of having known Wendy Brown will continue, Thistle said, and the reality of losing Wendy Brown must be woven into life.

“That’s a process, and it takes time,” she said. “Her life has touched yours and made it stronger.”

Two Rotary members spoke individually after the meeting.

Patterson said Wendy Brown was effective as an organizer and a fundraiser. She wasn’t a pushy or flashy person, he said, and she explained herself well and inspired confidence in listeners.

“If Wendy said there was a need, there was a need,” Patterson said. “Wendy was a woman of her word — she could be trusted.”

George Brown, a past president of the Oneonta Rotary, described Wendy Brown as “an extraordinarily competent, insightful, quiet individual.”

“She got things done,” Brown said. He also noted that the Browns showed affection toward each other, which isn’t typical for long-married couples, he said.

“They were outwardly and publicly affectionate with one another,” Brown said.

Wendy Brown graduated from the State University College at Oneonta in 1982, and Willis Brown graduated from SUNY Oneonta in 1983, college officials said Thursday.

“She loved the community, loved the area and worked hard to make it better,” John Campbell, mayor of Franklin, said Thursday. Among community projects, he said, she was a founding member of the Save Our School committee in Franklin. She also walked every morning along Franklin streets by herself and sometimes with her husband, Campbell said.

At the SUNY Delhi, Provost John Nader said the shooting deaths were a situation impossible to reconcile with the Willis Brown known at the campus.

“We’re confronted with the incomprehensible,” Nader said. Brown was a pleasant person, a dedicated teacher and skilled engineer who generally gleaned high praise, Nader said. Faculty and staff have stepped forward to cover his classes and advising assignments, Nader said.

Brown joined the SUNY Delhi faculty, which enrolls about 3,550 students, in 2005. He also worked with businesses through campus programs, campus officials said, and tutored students.

Faculty, students, administrators and other staff met informally and at organized meetings Thursday to remember Brown and cope with questions and feelings, Nader said.

“He touched many lives,’’ Nader said. “There were tears being shed.”

Brown tutored students on his own time, Nader said.

That interest in helping academically challenged students was a characteristic that colleagues said they especially want to be included among memories of Brown.

“He was very interested in student success, especially students with learning disabilities,” Mark Schneider, a former assistant professor at SUNY Delhi who left this summer to become chief executive officer at Delaware County Electric Cooperative.

“Willis had a fairly keen intellect,” said Schneider, who shared an office with Brown for 5½ years. Brown also was known for helping faculty with technical problems, he said, and “coming through with helpful advice.”

“It was a point of pride for him,” Schneider said.

Brown also talked about his canoe trips and shared tips about the outdoors, and they exchanged stories about family, Schneider said.

“His pride about his family was very evident,” Schneider said. The deaths have “taken everybody by surprise,” he said.

SUNY Delhi Dean Eric Robert agreed.

“It’s difficult for us to comprehend this event,” Robert said. “Willis was a well-regarded faculty member.”