DAVIS ISLANDS — Back in the early 1940s, Audrey McNamara was an up-and-coming singing star in her native New Zealand. She was still in her early 20s, but she had recorded several successful record albums and hosted a popular radio show.
Columbia Records flew her to New York City to discuss an international recording contract.
But her life headed in a different direction when she met Richard Brown, a young American solider who happened to pass through New Zealand during World War II. They fell in love, and shortly after the war she became Audrey Brown and moved to the United States to start a family.
She never sang professionally again, but she never missed it. She reveled in her new life.
"Really, her career was being a military wife and a mother," said her daughter Victoria Blake. "She was good at it, and she loved it."
Mrs. Brown died June 9 after a several months of declining health. She was 89.
She had grown up in a large family, the youngest of six children. It wasn't until she was an adult that she learned that she was her parent's only biological child. Her siblings were all actually cousins whose parents had died and who had been adopted by Mrs. Brown's parents.
She was very pretty and loved the popular music of the era. When the war broke out, she sang in USO shows and probably could have had her pick of many American GIs.
But Richard Brown was the soldier who won her heart. Unlike a lot of soldiers, he loved the military and wanted to make it his career. That suited his young wife just fine. She loved to travel and longed to see the world. The family, which eventually included two sons and a daughter, never stayed in one place for long.
"Every new place they went, she looked at it as an adventure," Blake said.
She didn't especially mind the long periods when her husband was away. Besides World War II, he served in Korea and twice in Vietnam. But she had her kids with her, and she made friends easily wherever she went.
"Once an entertainer, always an entertainer," said her son Kerry Brown. "She loved to entertain socially, and she loved to entertain people one-on-one."
Mrs. Brown's husband was brought to MacDill Air Force Base to help establish what is now called Central Command. They bought a house on Davis Islands and settled there after he retired. Col. Brown died in 1975.
Although she never sang for a living after marrying, Mrs. Brown never lost her love of music. Besides entertainers from her youth, she loved popular singers who came later, especially Barry White and Dionne Warwick.
She also had a passion for visual art. She was a talented amateur painter and served as a docent at the Scarfone Gallery at the University of Tampa.
Mrs. Brown also had a passion for helping migrant workers in eastern Hillsborough County.
"The trunk of the car was always full of stuff," her son said. "You'd ask her what it was, and she'd say, 'Oh, I'm going to take that out to the migrant workers.' And ever so often, she'd go out and deliver things to them."
Local audiences got a chance to hear Mrs. Brown sing not long before her death. Kerry Brown is a member of the St. Petersburg College Community Chorus. On Veterans Day last year, the group performed some of the songs they recorded in New Zealand, followed by a recording of Mrs. Brown herself singing.
Marty Clear writes life stories about local residents who have recently passed away. He can be reached at [email protected]