TAMPA — Twenty-six years ago, when Asha Terminello was deciding what she wanted to do with her life, she knew it had to be something that helped people.
Her new boss, Richard Brown, inspired her to go for a master’s degree in therapy.
Terminello is now chief operating officer of the Tampa-based Agency for Community Treatment Services, or ACTS — a nonprofit center that primarily connects troubled juveniles and their families to affordable treatment for substance abuse and mental health issues.
Mr. Brown worked for ACTS for 34 years, right up until he lost his battle with esophageal cancer on Dec. 16 at the age of 70.
"Everything I turned out to be in my professional life, I owe to this amazing man," said Terminello, who served as Mr. Brown’s right hand and chief operating officer for the past 10 years.
It’s a sentiment echoed by many who knew Mr. Brown, a champion for troubled youths who pushed state lawmakers to create the country’s first juvenile assessment center.
Opened in Hillsborough County in 1993, the center served as a model for reforming the juvenile justice system. Juvenile justice workers have come to Hillsborough County from across the country and internationally to learn from Mr. Brown’s model.
A minor who is arrested is brought to the juvenile assessment center for screening, case preparation and connections to counselors who can help with outside issues, sometimes related to school or family. Before the center was established, law enforcement officers who made an arrest had to ride around with a juvenile until a parent or guardian could be found.
Mr. Brown helped inspire others to service.
"Richard was my mentor, just a fabulous human being," said Linda McKinnon, who was hired by Mr. Brown and then later became chief executive officer of Central Florida Behavioral Health, a network of five substance abuse agencies including ACTS. "He had a vision for us that we are still working toward to provide the best services for the people that need them most."
Mr. Brown was born in Salem, Ohio, into a farming family. He attended Mount Union College in Ohio, then joined the Navy, where he discovered a passion for helping people who were struggling with addiction.
He was one of the first people in the Navy to work on substance abuse and mental health issues, which inspired him to obtain his master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University.
He moved to Tampa in 1981 and joined the staff at ACTS, then met his future wife. Richard and Sue Brown had five children and would have celebrated their 35th wedding anniversary next July.
"He was really just a family man, a simple guy," said Bonnie Brown, 32, Mr. Brown’s daughter and a New York physician.
"There was never a time in my life where I thought I would do anything other than help people," she said. "I just thought that was what everyone did, because he raised us that way."
Mr. Brown enjoyed watching football and listening to the blues, and rarely missed a Friday night happy hour with friends.
McKinnon remembered a story about a lunch meeting between ACTS and DACCO, another local behavioral health organization whose representatives were always competing instead of working together.
Before the end of the meal, Mr. Brown had everyone working in sync with plans he had sketched out on a napkin.
"He was a kind and gentle visionary, a true leader in his field," McKinnon said. "He continued to bring people together right up until the very end."
Contact Libby Baldwin at [email protected] Follow her at @LibBaldwin.