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Matthew J. Leonard ’92, left, and Mark Harriman '88 at the
the Mal Brown headstone dedication. 

Alumni Club Raises Funds for a Headstone Honoring Mal Brown 

 

Providence, R.I.--A residence hall, an alumni club, a basketball scrimmage, and a scholarship all bear the name of Mal Brown ’33, the popular Providence College student-athlete and football trainer who died young, at age 34, of typhoid fever in 1939.

But until October, Mr. Brown’s name was missing from a singularly important place: his gravesite at Wildwood Cemetery in Amherst, Mass.

The lack of a headstone to mark Mr. Brown’s final resting place had long troubled the Greater Providence Chapter of the Providence College National Alumni Association--a group known since 1956 as “the Mal Brown Club.”

Previous efforts to obtain a heastone for Mr. Brown were discussed by the club in the 1970s and 1990s but never came to fruition. That changed last year, when the club’s new president, Matthew J. Leonard, Esq. ’92, and its liaison to the national board, Mark Harriman ’88, made the project a club goal.

Launching “The Mal Brown Marker Project” with help from PC’s Office of Institutional Advancement, the committee set a goal to raise $8,000 for the headstone through donations of $100 or less.

Stone contractor Kenneth Castellucci and Associates of Lincoln, R.I., designed the 1,500-pound granite marker. It includes a bronze plaque with the Mal Brown Club’s logo--a derby hat, Mr. Brown’s trademark, atop the College seal. Four 24-inch by 12-inch foot markers also were created to mark the burial spots of Mr. Brown, his father, stepmother, and stepsister.

Headstone dedicated at Mass

In October, after the annual Mal Brown Scrimmage--an intrasquad contest before the start of the men’s basketball season--the headstone was dedicated during a Mass in St. Dominic Chapel. It was transported by truck to Amherst and installed at the cemetery. Mal Brown Club members had hoped to visit the grounds in November, but were detoured by a late-October snowstorm. They now plan a visit in the spring.

For Harriman, who spoke at the dedication, the project was a chance to rediscover Mal Brown. Techniques he learned while compiling his own family genealogy helped his research. He discovered the Brown family’s census records and Mr. Brown’s death certificate. He combed the PC archives. He even had a chance to speak with a 1940 graduate who was a senior when Mr. Brown died.     

“I feel really close to Mal Brown right now, having done this research,” said Harriman. “The history had kind of been lost. People don’t know what he meant to the school.” 

After two years at Connecticut State College, Mr. Brown arrived at PC in the fall of 1927 to study and play football. His hearty laugh, ever-present smile, and the derby, always askew, made him a favorite. Introduced to osteopathy at an early age, he put its techniques to practice as a trainer to the football team, working in that role for six years, from his commencement to his death on October 19, 1939.

Mr. Brown fell ill after eating with the football team in the former Guzman Hall, now Martin Hall, Harriman learned. Four undergraduates donated blood in an effort to save him. After his death, athletes carried his coffin into the rotunda of Harkins Hall for his wake.

Students, faculty, and Dominicans formed a procession in two long columns--walking to St. Pius V Church and forming an honor guard--for his funeral Mass.

When the funeral was over, two Providence police officers escorted the hearse to the city line for the trip to Amherst and the burial, in a grave that remained unmarked for seven decades--until October.

“He was the institution”

The marker project was similar to “a corporal work of mercy,” said Leonard. “He was the institution back in the day. He was the personality of the campus. He was a minority and the school embraced him. That’s quite a distinction for PC. It was a colorful time in America and a very segregated time.”

“It was very, very important for us to do this, given who he was and what he meant to this school,” said Harriman. “It’s very important to keep that alive.”

The club is still about $3,400 short of its goal and is continuing to raise funds, Leonard said. Contributions can be made on the alumni page on the College Web site. In the “instructions” box, donors should write “Mal Brown Marker Project.”

Checks may also be sent to Mal Brown Marker Project, Providence College, Office of Alumni Relations, Harkins Hall 412, 1 Cunningham Square, Providence, R.I. 02918-0001.

Club members have a new goal: doubling the amount awarded in the Mal Brown Scholarship. Raffle tickets will be sold at the new Mal Brown Club table at men’s basketball games at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. The table also will serve as a way for alumni to reconnect at the games, Leonard said.    

 

--Vicki-Ann Downing

 

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