Our Ministries
18 Feb

A Celebration of Life: Ralph Brown

APRIL 10, 1934-FEBRUARY 15, 2016.

On February 15, 2016, William Ralph Brown died after a week-long struggle in the intensive care unit of the Methodist Hospital in San Antonio, Texas. He was 82.  Complications from rheumatoid arthritis accounted for most of Ralph’s many surgeries and health issues. Ultimately the medications that allowed him to live rendered him dangerously vulnerable to serious infections. One of these ultimately took his life.

Despite eight artificial joints, reconstructed hands and feet, and a compromised immune system, Ralph possessed a powerful will, faith in God, and extraordinary self-discipline. These qualities enabled him to continue doing much of what he loved until shortly before he died. He practiced law into his eighties. He read widely and voraciously: at any given time he had just finished the most recent biography of Franklin Roosevelt, a study of primate behavior, or a gospel. He cooked excellent venison chili and often served it to his friends with a bottle of red wine. God’s creation awed and fascinated him, and he spent as much time as possible in the outdoors. For decades he hunted mule deer in the west Texas desert and elk in southern Colorado. He fished for bass in livestock tanks, drum in Matagorda Bay, or, some years ago, kingfish in the Gulf of Mexico. He wondered at bald eagles, killer whales, grizzly bear and caribou in Alaska. He was excited to discover a constellation or the momentary brilliance of an asteroid illuminating the night sky.  Fascinated, he chronicled the progress of two barn owls in a nest high above his office as they raised their young. He was a well-informed, articulate, and unhurried raconteur.

Ralph was born on April 10, 1934 in Hugo, Oklahoma, and grew up on a farm near there with his brother, John Warren. His parents – John Franklin and Birdie Ketchum Brown—raised crops and ran small businesses: they bought and sold grain and owned a plant that processed chickens for market, for example. In addition, Ralph’s mother held a college degree in English and taught in local schools. She instilled in Ralph the critical importance of education. Both of Ralph’s parents died when he was a teenager. He was with each of them when they passed away.

On September 8, 1952, he joined the United States Navy and served primarily in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii as a radio communications specialist. The Navy honorably discharged him on June 10, 1955. Subsequently Ralph attended the University of Texas at Arlington and at Austin.

After he left the Navy Ralph worked in southeast Oklahoma as a cowboy and a truck driver.

On August 22, 1959, Ralph married Patricia Ann Michell. Ralph and Patricia remained married for 23 years and had two sons: David Warren, born on September 14, 1960, and Christopher Ralph, born February 19, 1964.  Although their marriage ended in 1982, Patricia and Ralph provided one another friendship and emotional support for the remainder of Ralph’s life.

After he married Patricia and before he entered law school, Ralph enjoyed several successful years as a sales manager for Dayton Rubber Company.

In 1964 Ralph graduated from Saint Mary’s Law School in San Antonio, Texas, where he excelled as a student and oral advocate. Early as a licensed attorney Ralph practiced with Harvey Hardy, a local government law specialist. Ralph always referred to himself as a general practitioner, but for most of his legal career focused on real estate, local government, water, voting rights, and condemnation law.

For close to forty years – from 1965 until 2012 – Ralph provided legal representation to the San Antonio River Authority (SARA) and assisted in its management.  His work for SARA involved Ralph in a myriad of legal issues that affected the management and conservation of the San Antonio River and its tributaries, as well as the Edwards Aquifer.  He also served as city attorney to a number of communities in South Texas and acted as the municipal judge for the City of Castle Hills for over two decades.  He represented dozens of landowners when units of local and state government condemned their land for public projects, and represented local governments who sought to condemn land as well: Bexar County, for example.  Ralph enjoyed a long and successful career because he loved the law and understood it as a tool to solve practical human problems.

Possibly because he lost his parents as a teenager, Ralph responded to many people experiencing hardship who asked for his help, whether in the form of free legal services, money, or counsel.  He mourned what he saw as the sins and mistakes of his life and sought to make amends for them.  In his fifties Ralph converted to Catholicism and found solace in his faith for the remainder of his life.

Ralph is survived by his son, David Warren Brown, his daughter-in-law, Kris Ann Brown, as well as his grandchildren, Henry Brown and Alex Brown. Also surviving are his son, Christopher Ralph Brown, and his daughter-in-law, Kasey Anne Brown.


Memorial Services will be held on Saturday, March 5, 2016 at Saint Francis of Assisi Catholic Church, 4201 DeZavala Road, San Antonio, Texas, 78249 at 10 a.m.