Thursday, May 14, 1992 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Malcolm Brown, Retired Professor Of English At U. Of Washington

Professor Emeritus Malcolm Brown believed in the power of the mind.

He attempted - with his own son, and the students whom he taught English at the University of Washington - to share that view.

"I think he was driven by the desire to bring order to a chaotic world," said Bruce Brown, 41, son of Malcolm Brown. "He believed that a good, unbiased and open mind could make sense . . . out of the incredible crazy welter of the world.

"At times the various parts of modern existence can seem totally out of control. But my father believed it could be understood, and a better world could come out of that understanding."

Professor Brown, a noted scholar of Irish literature, died last month. He was 81.

He was born on May 19, 1910, in Marietta, Ga. His family moved to Sumas, Whatcom County, during World War I. He graduated, at 15, from Sumas High School in 1925 and received a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Washington in 1931.

He worked for a brief period as a teaching assistant and part-time instructor in the English Department at the UW. Though he was born in the South, it was the beauty and peace of the Northwest that he loved.

"My dad is a real Northwest boy," Bruce Brown said. "He made a conscious decision to stay in the Northwest."

But necessity - borne out of the Great Depression - and a desire to serve the government compelled him to move to the nation's capital, where he worked as an administrator at the Works Progress Administration (WPA).

He longed, however, for the Northwest, and decided to return. He found work at a family mine in Omak, Okanogan County.

After several years, a growing desire for knowledge consumed him and forced him to return to Seattle and the University of Washington, where he earned his doctorate in English.

Shortly afterward, he found his niche.

He served as an assistant professor in 1947, became an associate professor in 1956 and a full professor in 1968.

He retired in 1975 but taught correspondence courses part-time until 1988. He was also a Guggenheim Fellow.

"His specialty was in Irish literature," Harold Simonson, UW professor emeritus and former colleague of Professor Brown. "He taught courses in that area and was a world renowned authority on the subject."

"He thought clearly and had a keen intelligence, and was a very careful scholar," Simonson said.

"I don't know where" his passion for Irish literature came from, Simonson said.

Bruce Brown, himself an author, believes he does.

"Irish literature very much embodies two strong qualities - it's very polished and powerful. It is also a literature that is a reflection of the politics and history of the country," Brown said. "This related to my father's point of view and . . . it brought him to his calling."

Namely writing - and teaching.

"His pitch was contemporary Irish Literature, which he taught very, very well," said Robert Heilman, 86, chairman emeritus of the UW English Department until 1971. "He was known as a good teacher, and he always received good teacher ratings."

His son also gave him good marks.

"One of the things he taught me was that a lot of different kinds of people - from all walks of life, from all backgrounds - can have intelligence. He was not an intellectual snob."

Professor Brown was also a literary realist.

"In the 7th grade I took a paper to him I had written," Bruce Brown recalled. "I had tried to write it in a poetic form, using heightened language. My father read it and told me it was nice, but that it's better to have the language create the impression you want from the scene . . . rather than having the language call attention to itself."

Memorial services are scheduled for 3 p.m. Monday at the Faculty Club at the University of Washington.

Copyright (c) 1992 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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