Richmond F. Brown, 54, passed away from cancer in Gainesville, Florida, on September 20, 2016, just three weeks shy of his 55th birthday. He was born on October 14, 1961, in Fort Benning, Georgia, where his father was stationed in the military at the time. He spent most of his childhood in Mobile, Alabama, where he graduated from high school in 1980. He graduated summa cum laude from Spring Hill College in Mobile in 1983.
Richmond undertook graduate studies in history at Tulane University, where he worked under the direction of Ralph Lee Woodward Jr. He earned his MA from Tulane in 1986 and his PhD in 1993. He conducted his graduate research in Guatemala during the dark days of that nation's armed conflict and was much affected by that period of his life. His dissertation on the Aycinenas, an influential Central American merchant family of the late Bourbon period, formed the basis for his first monograph, Juan Fermín de Aycinena: Central American Colonial Entrepreneur, 1729–1796 (University of Oklahoma Press, 1997). Later, Brown shifted his focus from Central America to the Spanish Southeast. In 2007, he edited the influential work Coastal Encounters: The Transformation of the Gulf South in the Eighteenth Century (University of Nebraska Press). He was a very active member and program officer of the Southern Historical Association and the Southeastern Council of Latin American Studies. His absence will be much felt at the annual conferences.
Richmond was a consummate scholar, mentor, colleague, and friend. In a profession in which large egos often prevail, Richmond's sharp but quiet intellect, self-effacing manner, kindness, and wry sense of humor set him apart. He spent his entire career in the US South, a region of the country that he loved and appreciated. He taught Latin American history at the University of South Alabama from 1990 to 2006. After Hurricane Katrina destroyed their New Orleans home, Richmond and his wife, Ida Altman, also a historian of Latin America, moved to Gainesville, where both joined the faculty of the University of Florida. There, Richmond served as associate director for Academic Programs and Student Affairs at the university's Center for Latin American Studies, a position that he held until a matter of days before his death. It is indicative of Richmond's modesty and generosity of spirit that he began the letter to his colleagues announcing his retirement with “I hope you've all had a good summer.” Indeed, it bears repeating the words that appeared in his formal obituary: “All of us who love Richmond say good-bye with heavy hearts, even as we treasure our memories of this extraordinary man who gave so much to so many and never thought of himself as extraordinary.”
Richmond is survived by his beloved wife, Ida; his parents Richmond P. and Laura Frances Brown of Arley, Alabama; brother Kevin Brown and his wife Traci and children Campbell and Cameron of Montgomery, Alabama; brother John Brown and his wife Marie and son Aidan of Boston, Massachusetts; and by many friends, colleagues, and students. Richmond faced many challenges, not the least of which were Hurricane Katrina and multiple bouts with cancer, but he never lost his indefatigable good spirit. He was an enormously positive presence in the lives of many.
Donations may be made to the Richmond F. Brown Graduate Fund, established in his honor by the University of Florida Center for Latin American Studies to support the master's degree students to whom he was so devoted. Checks should be made payable to the UF Foundation, Inc. (indicate on the memo line “Fund 020871”) and sent to the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida, 319 Grinter Hall, Gainesville, FL 32611. Donations in Richmond's name to the Southern Poverty Law Center are also welcome.