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Remembering Claudine K. Brown

ClaudineBrowncroppedASTC is saddened by the loss of Claudine K. Brown and honored to share this tribute by her friend and colleague, Shari Rosenstein Werb, director of education and outreach at the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.

Claudine K. Brown, who served as the Smithsonian Institution’s assistant secretary for education and access, passed away on March 17 after a long battle with cancer. She was a lifelong learner, artist, educator, museum advocate, lawyer, grant maker, mother, grandmother, and mentor and friend to many, many people, including me.

I remember listening to Claudine several years ago as she addressed the Smithsonian Latino Center’s Young Ambassadors, who were preparing to enter college. Among the many wise things she shared with them was her advice to create their own personal “board of directors.” She encouraged each of them to reach out and recruit people to help guide, nurture, challenge, advise, and support them as they pursued their dreams.

I was fortunate to have had Claudine on my personal board of directors for 17 years, first as my graduate school adviser and professor at Bank Street College of Education, then as a mentor and advocate at the Smithsonian, and later as a sponsor during my Noyce Leadership Fellowship.

Claudine was authentic and inspirational. She modeled for others the principles of servant leadership she learned from her grandparents. She had a calm and peaceful demeanor and was always present for others. She listened actively and empathically and asked the most essential questions. She spoke to individuals, groups, and audiences with clarity, insight, and wisdom and elicited those qualities in others. She treated everyone she met with kindness and respect. She always greeted those she knew and those she was getting to know with a warm Claudine-smile, a dose of humor, and an anecdote that welcomed them into her world. An example of her charming style: when she returned to the Smithsonian from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, she emailed every employee at the institution named “Brown, C.” and invited them out to lunch. She knew they’d all be receiving each other’s emails and thought that they might as well get acquainted.

Always an educator and humanist, she had the ability to help broaden perspectives—to invite you to think and act more expansively, more humanely, more inclusively, more artistically, and more scientifically, while also listening and learning about and from you.

She had the most amazing collection of glasses and jewelry that expressed her vibrant and creative individuality and that opened up conversation and inquiry with people whom she encountered. Through her daily actions, she demonstrated how much she valued learning, access, and respect for all people. The outpouring of love and admiration expressed by Claudine’s friends and colleagues when they learned of her passing stands as a testament to her impact on the many lives she touched. I was honored to have counted myself among her friends. With them, I will miss her tremendously.