Shirley Berkowich Brown died peacefully in her home as she wished on December 16, 2020. She lived a full life of 97 years and was an early model of what a woman can do in the world. Growing up in Thurmont, MD she lived with her parents, Louis and Esther Berkowich and her older sister Betty. Her father owned a general store in the center of town and the woods and mountains surrounding the area were often her playground. She met her husband, Herbert Brown in 1949 and they had a loving happy marriage until his death in 1977. She is survived by her loving children, Jerry and Bob, her adored grandchildren Rachel Brown and Lisa Brown, and daughters-in-law Sindee Ernst and Lisa Brown.
Shirley was a thoughtful and deeply caring person, always reaching out to anyone who was ill or had a loss. Thus, after Shirley lost her sister Betty to cancer in 1950, she and Herbert started and ran the Betty Berkowich Cancer Fund until the 1970’s.
Throughout her life, without fanfare and with steady kindness and engagement of the world, Shirley was a pioneer. She was part of the first group of women to graduate from Johns Hopkins University and then taught English for several years. This marked the beginning of her core and lifelong passion: a love of and dedication to improving the lives of children.
In 1948, she talked her way into a job telling children’s stories daily on WCBM. In 1958, she started a 13-year run on WJZ Tv hosting “Let’s Tell a Story.” She would often memorize four stories a week, practicing at home with her children Jerry and Bob listening raptly at her feet. She was a master of different voices, switching with ease from one character to another. Throughout her life she would at times be stopped by someone on the street asking if she was Shirley Brown the storyteller and then told how much she had meant to them. She brought this same passion for stories to her family, and her children and grandchildren grew up in the midst of her stories and her direction on diction and enunciation. She also made three storytelling records and wrote a children’s book, Around the World Stories To Tell to Children. After ending her run on WJZ, she wrote original weekly stories for the “Storyteller” column in the Baltimore Sun, which ran for several years.
In her later years, Shirley continued to reach young people through work with ceramic arts. While doing research for one of her newspaper stories, she met Otto Natzler, an internationally known ceramist. She was intrigued to learn that there were no museums devoted to ceramics and after many years opened the National Museum of Ceramic Art in downtown Baltimore. While the museum closed after five years, it was the beginning of the next phase of her life. Starting in 1994 and until her death, she ran the Middle School Ceramic Art Program, that at its height was in 57 schools in Baltimore City and County with both in school and after school sessions, teaching thousands of children each year to love the ceramic arts. She was deeply dedicated to the children and ran the non-profit without pay for all those years. She had incredible joy watching the children in this program prosper.
Shirley’s life was marked by her love of others, her love of stories, and her commitment to action. Even in her final years, experiencing various pain and challenges, she consistently asked how others were doing and made sure to reach out to check in on them. She never failed to offer welcomed advice, to remind those around her how much she loved them, and to have a laugh together with her loved ones, all the while never complaining. A lover of ice cream and chocolate to the end, the last thing she ate was a spoonful of ice cream.
A private graveside funeral will be held. There will be a zoom shiva on Tuesday December 22. Please check the Sol Levinson website for the link. In lieu of flowers, please make any donations to Middle School Ceramic Art Program and send to 12219 Faulkner Drive, Owings Mills, MD 21117.