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Loss of sports hero hits home for Brooksville

Published Aug. 24, 2005

Because of his relationship with former Philadelphia Eagles teammate Jerome Brown, some Brooksville residents considered Reggie White part of the extended family.

Even after Brown's death in a 1992 car crash, White still kept in touch. White was instrumental in building support for the Jerome Brown Center in Brooksville.

So when Willie Brown Jr., Brown's father, heard the news of White's death last Sunday, he took it personally.

"It was really disturbing. I know the Lord does what He wants to do, but I can just hardly believe it," said Brown, who said he saw White when he visited Brooksville a couple of months ago.

Although White's achievements on the gridiron may never be forgotten, Brown said White also will be remembered for making a difference in the lives of youths in Brooksville.

His efforts, along with those of Brown's former Eagles teammates such as Keith Jackson, helped build the Jerome Brown Center, a focal point for youth activities in the city.

"We wouldn't have gotten that community center if it wasn't for them," Brown said.

Through the years, White, an ordained minister, had preached at the Josephine Street Church of the Living God, where Brown is a deacon. When Brown's wife, Annie Bell, died in 2001, White attended the funeral.

While some saw White as controversial, Brown saw a different person.

"Reggie was a spiritual and God-filled man, he really was," Brown said.

"We couldn't find nothing wrong with him. He was straight up. Reggie White served the Lord the same way he played on the football field: 100 percent.

"It's just amazing how good he was playing football. He taught Jerome a lot of stuff," said Brown, 73. "If I wasn't so under the weather, I would be right up there" for the funeral.

White died last Sunday at age 43. His funeral was held in Charlotte, N.C., on Thursday. A preliminary autopsy report showed White might have died because of a respiratory disease combined with other health problems.

White had relatives in the Citrus County area. His nephew, Jamaal Galloway, graduated last spring from Citrus High School, where he was a basketball standout. White had visited the Galloway family at their home outside of Inverness and, in November, watched Jamaal play in his first college road basketball game in Wingate, N.C.

The enduring memory Tim Jinkens has of White is of the imposing defensive lineman signing autographs at Hernando High's Tom Fisher Stadium during the Jerome Brown "For the Kids" Football Camp.

"The last thing I remember is of him sitting there and signing 500 autographs. That's pretty hard to find these days," said Jinkens, boyhood friend of Jerome Brown, co-owner of the Red Mule Pub and vice president of the Jerome Brown Youth Foundation, which provides a $1,000 scholarship annually for a Hernando County graduating senior.

Jerome Brown, a Hernando High and University of Miami defensive standout, played alongside White as part of the Eagles' vaunted Gang Green defense. He volunteered at teammates' youth camps, and they returned the favor.

"Jerome wanted to have a football camp. That first year, he had a lot of teammates. Everybody wanted to come down," Jinkens said.

"I don't think Brooksville realize how fortunate we were. There were at least eight All-Pros," said Jinkens, refering to White and others who attended the camp. "We were very blessed to have Reggie come down the first year" in 1992.

Brown was killed in a car wreck, along with his 12-year-old nephew, shortly after the first camp was held. Despite Brown's absence, White was back the next year, Jinkens said.

"The second year was really emotional," he said.

Jinkens also recalled speaking with White in the visitors' locker room at Raymond James Stadium after the Green Bay Packers played the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. White donated a $5,000 check for the Jerome Brown Center fund. Fundraising for the building was completed about five years after Brown's death.

"That was really nice of him. The center was a real closure for a lot of us," Jinkens said.

White, Jackson and other players pledged to match whatever the community raised to build the center, Jinkens said.

"There was no way we could have done it without him."

White's biggest legacy might be his impact on the children he met during his visits to Brooksville.

"He meant a lot to the children of this center, " said JoAnn Mumford, program coordinator at the Jerome Brown Center.

"He kept coming around for the kids who didn't have a chance. He was just a good man. He's gone too soon."

Mumford said White had a way of connecting with the youths he met and counseled.

"He would always tell them the right thing to do. He wasn't scolding them. He made it fun for them," Mumford said. "They wouldn't forget what he said. They'd say, "Reggie White said this so I can't do that.'

"If somebody else had told them the same thing, they wouldn't have grasped it," she said. "He was that sort of guy. And he loved Jesus. That was the God he served, and it showed. He made a difference in the world. He changed lives everywhere, even in little old Brooksville."

Times staff writer Colleen Jenkins contributed to this report.