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University of Missouri

A Team of Teachers

College of Education grads Shirley and Charlie Brown celebrate 48 years.

Charlie and Shirley Brown

Charlie and Shirley Brown arrive at the St. Louis International Airport from Hawaii, where Charlie won MVP in the Jan. 6, 1967, Hula Bowl. Photo courtesy of Shirley and Charlie Brown.

Shirley Bowden Brown was a tutor for Mizzou Athletics when she met football player Charlie Brown in 1963. Early dates included showing football recruits around campus together and taking in dinner at a pizza parlor and a movie at Jesse Auditorium on Sundays.

But they spent their first real date doing laundry together. Charlie was always wearing his Mizzou freshman jacket, and Shirley suggested that he should wash it.

I put it in in the washing machine, but it was so fragile and worn that it disintegrated in the water,” recalls Charlie, BS Ed ’67.

Adds Shirley, BS Ed ’65: “We shared a laugh together. That was the end of the jacket but the beginning of our relationship.”

As two of the few African-American students on campus during the civil rights movement, Charlie used his high profile as an athlete to break down racial barriers, and Shirley spearheaded the formation of Alpha Kappa Alpha, MU’s first African-American Greek sorority.

We understood the limitations,” Shirley says. “We had to work harder, be smarter and do things that made people see us in a positive way.”

The couple got engaged when Shirley graduated with job offers at St. Louis and Columbia public schools. “I told Charlie, ‘I’ll stay in Columbia as a fiancée or not at all. It’s up to you,’ ” she says. Charlie never formally proposed, but he made his intentions clear by putting her Columbia teaching contract in the mail. Shirley became the first African-American employee at Russell Boulevard Elementary School and they married Aug. 20, 1966.

The Browns spent their careers as educators. Shirley was an administrator with the St. Louis Public Schools’ School Partnership Program. Charlie, after a brief stint with the NFL’s New Orleans Saints, was assistant commissioner of urban education for the Missouri Department of Education.

Now the couple focuses on giving back to MU with their involvement in the College of Education, Mizzou Alumni Association and Mizzou Athletics. “The university enabled us to do well,” Shirley says. “We want to help the way we were helped.”

Charlie eventually proposed, officially, to Shirley at their 40th wedding anniversary, and they have made a great team nearly 48 years.