James Wyatt “Jim” Brown Jr., 97, a World War II veteran and Lexington businessman who was known for his devotion to University of Kentucky football, died Monday.
Brown attended every University of Kentucky home football game from 1945 to 2009. His streak would have been longer, except the war got in the way.
Brown, who played halfback at Bowling Green High School, began regularly attending UK home games in 1938, while he was a freshman at the university living in the Sigma Nu fraternity house.
UK Coach A.D. Kirwan had invited him to walk on to the UK team, but he had to forgo the opportunity because he couldn’t afford it, Brown said in a 2000 Herald-Leader column.
“My father was a Ford dealer who went bankrupt during the Depression,” he said. “I had to work to get through UK.”
So instead of playing, Brown went on to become one of the football program’s best-known fans.
He went to every home game from 1938 until 1944, when he was sent overseas as a navigator and bombardier with the 490th U.S. Army Air Corps Bomb Squadron, or the “Burma Bridge Busters.” He flew 72 missions and was featured in a History Channel documentary about the Bridge Busters in 2003.
When he returned home just before the start of the 1945 football season, he picked up where he left off and attended every home game for the next 64 seasons. His 412-game attendance streak ended in October 2009, when he was 90, when he caught a bad cold.
“We’re saddened about the passing of Mr. Brown, but also reflect on a life very well lived,” said UK athletics spokesman Tony Neely. “He was obviously a great University of Kentucky fan, but the things he did in his life far transcended his fandom. Mr. Brown was a great family man, a fine Christian, truly a representative of what has been called the Greatest Generation that defended America in World War II and came home to build the greatest nation on earth.”
Brown spent most of his career selling lumber and building supplies and was a past president of the Kentucky Retail Lumber Dealers Association. Later in life, he worked as a real estate agent with B&D Realty.
Football wasn’t the only thing he was known for regularly attending.
He maintained perfect attendance for 46 years at Rotary International and was a faithful member of Crestwood Christian Church, according to an obituary.
When interviewing Brown for an article in UK’s football media guide, Neely said he asked Brown about his consistency.
“I’ve always had a tendency to be loyal,” Brown responded.
Brown was married for 52 years to Caroline Rodes Brown, who died in 1999. He is survived by his wife, Mary Anne Brown, along with his daughter, Margaret Brown Walker, son, William Rodes Brown, and grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Services will be at 1 p.m. Monday at Crestwood Christian Church. Visitation begins at noon. Milward Funeral Directors is in charge of arrangements.