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William Cook Brown | 1932-2011

Tampa native William Cook Brown, 78, dies

BEACH PARK — Bill Brown had a long and successful career with General Motors. "A super-salesman," one friend called him.

But he was never one of those people who defined himself by his career. His work allowed him to enjoy his life, his family and his friends. Those were the things that were most important to him.

"He would do anything for anybody," said his wife, Helen Thompson Brown. "He truly cared about his friends. He was an easygoing guy, and people immediately liked him because he was like that."

Mr. Brown died on Feb. 25, 2011. He was 78.

Even though he had some health problems, his death was a shock to the people who cared about him.

Mr. Brown had broken his leg on four occasions in recent years, and each time doctors had to operate to repair the bone. The last time, he died during surgery.

"We had gotten used to his having to have surgery every time he broke his leg," said his brother-in-law and lifelong friend Clay Thompson. "This time he just didn't make it."

Mr. Brown was born and raised in Tampa, just a little north of downtown. He studied business at the University of Florida, where he roomed with Thompson, whom he had known from his high school years in Tampa.

He joined the Army and served as a tank training instructor. When he came back home to Tampa a few years later, he met Thompson's younger sister.

"He was just one of the guys who hung out with my brother, and I was the little sister who followed my brother and his friends around," Helen Brown said. "I fell in love with him right away. I thought he was very handsome. He had these beautiful blue eyes and a great smile. And he was just so comfortable to be around."

They married in 1962, and he went to work for GM, selling auto parts to dealers around the country. He loved the work, and his affability made him a natural salesman.

"He was one of the most gregarious people you could ever meet," Thompson said.

His career led the Browns to move to several cities over the next 30 years, from Miami to Cincinnati.

"We enjoyed it because we always seemed to go to nice places, and we always had friends who lived there," Helen Brown said. "And of course we'd make new friends once we got there."

But they knew they would eventually return to Tampa.

"This was where our families were," his wife said. "This was home."

He was never one for hobbies, but after he retired he joined the Tampa Yacht Club and Ye Mystic Krewe of Gasparilla, and he played in a regular poker game with his brother-in-law and other friends.

He spent a lot of time in the hospital in the past few years but continued to enjoy his life and the people around him.

"Even in the hospital he made new friends," his wife said. "He got to be friends with the nurses, and they were always coming in to talk to him because they liked him so much."

Marty Clear writes life stories about Tampa residents who have died recently. He can be reached at

Tampa native William Cook Brown, 78, dies 03/03/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 3, 2011 3:31am]
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