Marilyn Bahre Brown wasn't born in Aiken, but for more than 60 years she promoted the city and shared her enthusiasm for her adopted hometown.
Brown, who helped start the city's annual Christmas Craft Show and was one of the original owners of Plum Pudding, died Tuesday. She was 84.
“She would find things in the community that she felt were important, and she tried to get other people in the community to get involved to help keep Aiken growing and prospering,” Randall Brown, one of her sons, said Wednesday. “She promoted things that were positive. When people needed to get things moving, they came to my mother, and she would always be right there in the middle to guide them and to help make things better and stronger.”
Brown said it was a “treat" to see his mother get involved.
“It was a joy,” he said. “When she started something, people got on the ball and helped her. She was a leader.”
Born in 1935 in Canton, Connecticut, Brown moved to Aiken with her husband, Lynn, in 1955, and the couple raised three sons, Randall, and his two brothers, Kirk and Ryan.
In her obituary, Kirk Brown wrote that his mother “possessed a zest for life that she brought to her many interests. She was an avid gardener, artist, chef, bridge player and small business owner."
Brown taught art classes at the City of Aiken Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism, which led her to organize the original Aiken Christmas Craft Show, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year.
Randall Brown said his mother started the show as an outlet to sell her students' many artworks.
“Her students started having a lot of paintings,” he said. “She did it for three years at three different places. Then she went to Mike Facciolo, who was running the H. Odell Weeks Center. She said I'll promote it and help you, and you can take it from there. And it's been going on for 50 years.”
In 1976, she co-founded Plum Pudding, a kitchen and gift store on Laurens Street, and became a passionate contributor to the revitalization of downtown Aiken.
“They were looking for cake-decorating pans and and different cooking ware. They couldn't find it in Aiken and said why don't we open our own shop,” Randall Brown said.
Brown and co-founder Duncan McDonald owned Plum Pudding, which is still in business at the northwest corner of Laurens Street and Richland Avenue, for 19 years.
Brown was instrumental in naming South Aiken High School and was a president of the Booster Club. She spearheaded the publication of the “Thoroughbred Fare” cookbook as a fundraiser for South Aiken’s football stadium.
“They gave the school, I think, something like $40,000 to start the football stadium,” Randall Brown said.
Brown also promoted the arts in Aiken.
“We went to symphonies. We'd go to the ballet and the Heart Fund shows,” Randall Brown said. “She was trying to keep Aiken alive and strong. That was her goal: to help Aiken be better for the next generation.”
In her neighborhood, Brown led an effort to plant a thousand dogwood trees and started the Gem Lakes Organization for Women. She was a member and leader of the Garden Club of Aiken, Aiken Town and Country Women’s Club, the Red Hat Society and numerous bridge clubs.
Brown also enjoyed watching sports, particularly Notre Dame football and, true to her Connecticut roots, the UConn women’s basketball team.
She was an active parishioner at St. Mary Help of Christians Catholic Church for many years.
Randall Brown said his mother “touched a lot of people's lives” and “everyone she touched was involved in something worthwhile that the community needed.”
And in her final days, many of those people whose lives Brown touched showed her what she meant to them.
“For the last three months of her life, 200 to 300 people were coming in,” Randall Brown said. “People came out of the woodwork to give her hope.”