TAMPA — He was a "preacher teacher," a pastor and an educator, a coach and a civic leader, with one common denominator: helping others succeed.
"That's what it's all about, helping someone else," Abe Brown told a crowd gathered to honor him in 2003.
It's what he loved. It's what people will remember about him.
The Rev. Abraham Brown died Saturday morning after succumbing to his third bout with cancer. He was 83.
Standing somewhere near 6 feet 3, Brown was as towering a presence physically as he was in the Tampa community.
The native son returned to town after college and taught thousands of youngsters in the classroom and on the football field before becoming a minister to inmates and finally a congregation at the First Baptist Church of College Hill.
"Abe Brown has been a very successful person. Everything he touched turned into success," said the Rev. Thomas Scott, chairman of the Tampa City Council.
The success began with sports.
Brown played football at Middleton High from 1943 to 1945 and won a scholarship to Florida A&M University.
Longtime friend Harry Morris, 83, said Brown started teaching at Middleton in 1957. He was an assistant coach for both Middleton and Blake High schools and became Blake's head coach in 1966.
"He was a very good coach," Morris said. "Stern and to the point, a no-nonsense coach. All of the kids respected him."
In his 23-year coaching career, Brown sent nine students to the pros and led Blake to the state football championship in 1969.
His sternness also translated into his career as an educator. He was known as "Mean Dean Brown" when he was dean of boys at Chamberlain High School for 15 years.
When he retired in 1988, it was to dedicate more time to turning a perceived failure into success.
Brown blamed himself when he picked up a newspaper in the mid 1970s and read that one of his former players was charged with killing a cabdriver, said Robert Blount, Brown's son-in law and president of Abe Brown Ministries. He had taught the boys football but not how to live life.
The devout Christian visited his former player in prison several times and more and more people would listen in on their conversations, Blount said.
From those talks about God, Prison Crusades was born as Brown fought to reach the hearts of those imprisoned and spread the gospel.
Today, Abe Brown Ministries also focuses outreach efforts that include housing, food and employment services for inmates convicted in Hillsborough County that are in prisons within 120 miles of Tampa.
Council member Scott said he first met Brown 30 years ago standing on a street corner trying to minister to drug addicts and alcoholics.
"You really could not ask for a better leader than Rev. Abe Brown," Scott said. "(He is) one of the giants of this community."
The community honored him for his service.
Brown has won the Tampa Metro Civitan Club Outstanding Citizen of the Year. In 2007, 100 Black Men of Tampa Bay named him Father of the Year. The month before he died, his fraternity, Kappa Alpha Psi, named him Citizen of the Year at their annual scholarship banquet. Middleton High School named their stadium after Brown in 2003. Countless other organizations have given Brown his due.
Tampa City Council member Curtis Stokes said he met Brown while giving him a humanitarian award in 2005.
"He was a very humble guy, very thoughtful and very charismatic," Stokes said. "He embodied everything you wanted to see in a pastor."
Stokes said his gentility set him apart from other community leaders.
"You don't meet guys often with all the grace and the personality," Stokes said. "It's hard to describe. In my 42 years of life, I've never met anybody else like that."
His three daughters — Vanessa Brown Bennett, Kimberly Brown-Blount, and Quida L. Brown — credit their spirituality to their father.
Brown-Blount told the St. Petersburg Times in 2007: "As a father, I looked at him as an umbrella. He was an example of a heavenly protector, and, of course, we wanted to go out and get wet. He's always been a praying father, and that has taught me to be a praying mother."
Leon Drew, 63, served as a deacon under Brown at First Baptist Church of College Hill and knew the pastor 18 years before then.
"He was a preacher teacher, if you will," Drew said. "I think of a humble gentle giant, as a true man of God really. He emphasized a Christian walk."
He served as senior pastor from 1993 to December 2007, when he was succeeded by the current pastor, the Rev. Dr. Evan Burrows.
"He did what many other pastors never do," Burrows said. "They never step down. He always wanted what was best for the church."
Burrows said that for Brown, leading the church was never about the glamour or prestige. "When you were in (Brown's) presence, you never had the sense that he had a sense of self-importance," Burrows said.
Even after stepping down he never left the sanctuary.
"If he could breathe, he would be in church on Sunday, both services and Sunday school," Drew said. "Sometimes they would have to hide his car keys to stop him from coming."
Brown is also survived by his wife of 46 years, Altamese, and his grandchildren. Funeral plans have not been finalized.