Standing guard in Discovery Green, with his face fronting the park’s bisecting east-west sidewalk and his back to The Grove restaurant, is a statue of George R. Brown. It’s easy to miss if you’re thinking about other things, but the contributions of George Brown, the man, should never be overlooked.
But if his name is but the name attached to the downtown convention center, here’s the answer to the question we hear a lot at the GRB: “Who was George R. Brown?”
George Rufus Brown (1898-1983) was internationally known as an engineer and was one of Houston’s best-known citizens. He and his brother, Herman, turned Brown and Root into the world's largest construction and engineering company.
Brown and Root flourished first with major public construction contracts in Texas – the Mansfield Dam on the Colorado River and the Naval Air Station in Corpus Christi – before expanding its scope. Brown and Root built roads, dams, bridges, petrochemical plants and large offshore oil drilling platforms.
In 1942, Brown and his brother formed the Brown Shipbuilding Company on the Houston Ship Channel and built 359 vessels for the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1962, Brown and Root was awarded the planning contract for the $200 million Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston. He and investors also founded a major pipeline firm, Texas Eastern Transmission Company.
Brown served in the United States Marine Corps. He attended Rice University, the University of Texas and Colorado School of Mines, graduating in engineering in 1922. He served on the board of such companies as International Telephone and Telegraph, Armco Steel, Louisiana Land and Exploration Corp., First City Bankcorporation, Inc., and Texas Eastern Corp.
Brown served under Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson on various committees and was a member of many professional organizations. He received numerous honors and awards such as the John Fritz Medal, the engineering profession’s highest honor for scientific and industrial achievement. (Other medal recipients include Alexander Graham Bell and Thomas Edison.) Brown received the Gold Medal for Distinguished Achievement from the American Petroleum Institute, Distinguished Alumnus Awards from Rice University, the University of Texas and the Colorado School of Mines. In 1943, he was elected to the Board of Trustees of Rice University. In 1950, he became the first Rice alumnus to be elected chairman of the board.
In the mid-1960s, Brown was shown a rudimentary heart pump by a surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine. He suggested that engineers might enhance it. This led to the Rice-Baylor artificial heart project.
George R. Brown died on January 23, 1983, and is buried in Houston. His legacy is carried forth by the family’s Brown Foundation. In the 1950s, he and his brother and their wives formed the foundation, which has awarded more than $400 million to various causes over the years.
In 2008, the George Brown family was inducted into the Houston Hall of Fame, which, appropriately, is housed inside the George R. Brown Convention Center.Discovery Green, GRB, George R. Brown