Virgil E. Brown: A Trailblazing Public Servant
by Lester Holmes, Department of Health and Human Services
As many within the community know, the Virgil E. Brown Center is a place where those seeking support can come for much needed assistance and services. What many may not know is that the namesake of the Payne and Superior Avenues building dedicated his life providing services to residents throughout Northeast Ohio and beyond.
A dedicated public servant, Virgil E. Brown (1917-2010) became the first African American to lead the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections as well as the first elected to the Cuyahoga County Commission.
Born in Louisville, KY., Brown came to Cleveland in 1929 as his father found work in construction. Brown graduated from Central High School and attended Fenn College (now Cleveland State University).
After working for various companies and opening an insurance agency, Brown decided to run for public office at the urging of his wife, Lurtissia. He was elected to Cleveland City Council in 1968.
While serving on Cleveland City Council, Brown accepted an appointment to lead the Cuyahoga County Board of Elections (BOE). He became the first African American county BOE Director in the State of Ohio. Brown left the BOE in 1979 after being selected to fill an open seat on the Cuyahoga County Commission. He subsequently ran for the office the next year and became the first African American elected to a countywide office other than a judgeship.
Brown was revered for his dedication to the Health and Human Services agencies, including a project to erect a facility on Superior Ave., which befittingly is named the Virgil E. Brown Center.
Brown resigned from the County Commission when then Gov. George Voinovich appointed him the Director of the Ohio Lottery in 1991. He retired from public service in 1994.
Brown’s son, Virgil E. Brown, Jr., said his father was not only a great public servant but a great husband, father and role model to his children.
“He led his family and was a great example to follow”, said Brown. Jr, a former Shaker Heights Municipal Court Judge and Ohio School Board member, who added that it is still a sense of pride for his family to have his father memorialized with a building named in his honor.
“We were very pleased when the County Commissioners decided to honor him. It’s a very good feeling and makes our entire family proud.”
Virgil Brown died on November 10, 2010. Lurtissia Brown died September 2, 2016. In addition to Brown, Jr., the couple also had a daughter, Veretta Garrison- Moller, and a host of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Photos courtesy of the Cleveland Public Library Digital Archives.