Rockers And Risks: The Tim Brown Story

Jean Robinson and Tim Brown

The son of Louis and Elizabeth (Willson) Brown, Timothy Tuttle Brown was born July 24, 1938 in Loup City, Nebraska - a small town with a population of around fifteen hundred. Tim's father was a public school teacher turned military man. His latter occupation kept the family continuously on the move. In fact, Tim and his older brother Willson were carted around from Sidney City, Nebraska to Spokane, Washington to Baltimore, Maryland and Los Angeles, California. As teachers and friends came and went, the familiar air of the ice rink quickly became the one constant in young Tim's life.

After defeating Peter Pender to win the novice men's title at the 1952 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs, Tim began training under Eugen Mikeler in California, who coached him to the 1954 U.S. junior men's title in his then home base of Los Angeles. Relocating yet again to Colorado Springs, Tim became a fixture at the Broadmoor Skating Club in Colorado Springs, taking from Edi Scholdan and training alongside Hayes and David Jenkins. Under Scholdan's tutelage, Tim earned a trio of medals at the 1957 World, North American and U.S. Championships.

David Jenkins, Donald Jackson and Tim Brown at the 1959 World Championships in Colorado Springs

Throughout his entire career, Tim was accurately labelled as an intellectual and a specialist in school figures. He actually led after the figures at both the 1958 and 1959 World Championships, but frequently was overshadowed by his rivals in the free skate. A particularly dismal free skating performance at the 1958 World Championships in Paris almost cost him a silver medal. At that event, his lowest marks came from American judge Harold G. Storke, who had him in sixteenth place in that phase of the competition. France's Alain Giletti's lower points score allowed Tim to win the silver, though his ordinal placings were higher.

Charles Snelling, Tim Brown and David Jenkins. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Though his often self-choreographed programs included novel footwork and choreography, Tim's frequent inconsistency when it came to jumps always seemed to place him behind his biggest rival both at home and internationally - training mate David Jenkins. Despite this, Tim still managed to amass five medals in singles and ice dancing (with partner Susan Sebo) at the U.S. Championships from 1957 to 1960, two North American medals, three World medals and an impressive fifth place finish at the 1960 Winter Olympic Games in Squaw Valley while struggling with injury.

Following the 1960 Olympics, rumours swirled on the East Coast that Tim had retired from competition. In actuality, he was busy training at Sutro's and the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club that summer. He even passed his bronze and silver dance tests. Yet, at the time his studies at the University Of California, Berkeley in zoology were taking much more of a priority in his life than his time at the rink, and his skating suffered.

At the 1961 U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs, Tim placed an uncharacteristically low third in the figures and delivered a less than stellar free skating performance peppered with small errors. By the end of the performance, it was quite apparent he was in fact running out of steam, but he had a trick up his sleeve. In her book "Indelible Tracings", Patricia Shelley Bushman noted, "On Tim's second split jump, he purposely landed off the ice. No one had ever ended a program by jumping off the ice and landing in the exit area. Tim kept going and headed into the locker room, with a nurse chasing after him." The USFSA later passed a rule that a skater must begin and end their program on the ice. It was dubbed 'the Tim Brown rule.'

Novel ending aside, Tim wasn't at all well at the 1961 U.S. Championships. A rheumatic fever, chest pains from a pre-existing heart condition coupled with the altitude in Colorado Springs and limited training caught up with him. In the locker room, he struggled to breathe and fainted. Luckily, an ambulance was parked outside the arena. Medical staff administered oxygen and he was revived. He finished third but skipped the awards ceremony. Doctors advised him not to risk the stresses of physical exertion and travel, and he left Colorado Springs without advising the USFSA as to his plans with regards to the North American and World Championships.  Ultimately, Tim announced that he wouldn't attend either event due to illness and the USFSA named Douglas Ramsay as his replacement. Tim's withdrawal saved his life, as Ramsay was of course among those who perished on Sabena Flight 548. Quoted in the February 16, 1961 issue of the "Oregon Statesman", Tim told the press, "They were all close friends. I've known some of them for ten years... I got a letter from Dudley [Richards], telling me he hoped he would see me when the plane took off. It is terrible for those killed and even more tragic for the relatives and friends who survive."

Though he entertained returning to competition in 1964, the Sabena Crash only strengthened Tim's resolve not to pursue competitive figure skating any further. He resumed his studies at University Of California, Berkeley, got his masters in zoology and later attended medical school. After briefly practicing medicine, he turned his attention to coaching, working with a young Peggy Fleming. In her book "The Long Program: Skating Toward Life's Victories", Peggy recalled, "After every lesson, he would insist that I write down what I had learned. He wanted to see what I took from the lesson: my progress as well as my mistakes and my analysis of them. Tim would even correct my spelling! It kind of makes sense for a guy who was so into technique and school figures. Although I thought it was an immense pain back then, I now realize that the act of writing something down makes an indelible mark in your brain. I actually wrote and drew out the designs of all of my moves, which is a technique I still use to this day in analyzing skaters on ABC."

In the seventies, Tim continued his work as a coach and choreographer, moonlighting as a concert pianist under the alias Jamie Catalpa. He also became involved in the early days of the Canada Ice Dance Theatre. Ron Vincent recalled, "Tim was, in some ways, responsible for my bringing Frank Nowosad to Victoria to coach. Meeting Frank for the first time in Edmonton, I remarked that I had seen a narrative competitive skating program at the Canadian Championships in London (in about 1972), and that it may have been a first. Frank immediately responded with the name of the skater, Karen Gropa and the choreographer, Tim Brown... A few years later when Tim joined us for the second workshop in Victoria, it was with full beard and long hair in protest of the Vietnam War; he was definitely counter-culture and anti-establishment (this included anti-ballet, which at times made co-existence difficult). He proved to be an exceptional choreographer. Some of his works composed in Victoria drew upon revolutionary heroes such as Federico Garcia Lorca upon whose poems he choreographed 'Night of the Seven Moons', and most had a literary point of departure. Tim and Clara Hare, an actor and adjudicator, perhaps because of their mutual interest in literature and its close ally, drama, had a particular affinity for working together." Tragically passing away at the age of fifty one on September 14, 1989 in San Francisco of complications of HIV/AIDS, Tim ironically shared a name with another American who in 2007 termed 'The Berlin Patient' who underwent a complicated stem cell procedure in Germany and became known as the first person to have been cured of the HIV virus.

There are many reasons why Tim's story hasn't received the attention it deserved. He skated in the shadow of the Jenkins brothers and Ronnie Robertson. He was a figures specialist at a time when athletic prowess was becoming de rigueur. He didn't get on that plane. He passed away as the result of an illness some in the figure skating world didn't want to acknowledge. Yet, the reality is that Tim offered something different to figure skating than the status quo: he was a risk-taker... and skating hasn't always been kind to its risk-takers.

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