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Former House Speaker, Open Government Supporter Nelson Brown Dies At 89

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Nelson Brown, circa 1957 (Connecticutg State Register and Manual)

Nelson Brown, circa 1957 (Connecticutg State Register and Manual)

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By STEPHANIE REITZ, Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Nelson C.L. Brown, a former radio broadcaster who parlayed his popularity as state House Speaker into decades of lobbying for open government, has died at a hospice facility in southeastern Connecticut. He was 89.

Brown died late Wednesday near his childhood hometown of Groton, said Mitchell Pearlman, a close friend of Brown’s for decades and former executive director of the state Freedom of Information Commission.

Brown, a Republican who represented Glastonbury in the House of Representatives, presided over that chamber as speaker in 1957-58 and remained active for 50 years afterward in lobbying for open government legislation.

Often called the dean of former House speakers, Brown returned to the Capitol each year for ceremonies marking the General Assembly’s opening day. He continued that tradition last winter when the 2011 session was convened, though the affable former lobbyist’s declining health due to diabetes complications required him to use a wheelchair.

Funeral arrangements were being made Thursday and had not been immediately announced.

Word of Brown’s death drew emotional reactions Thursday at the state Capitol, where he had been a fixture there for decades. He could often be found chatting in the cafeteria or enjoying what insiders call “rail time,” grabbing treasured moments with legislators and policymakers at the rails overlooking the Legislative Office Building’s expansive atrium.

For Brown, much of that rail time was spent advocating for bills to expand access to public records and proceedings, or against legislation that he believed limited the public’s information about its government.
“He was truly a model human being,” said state Rep. Andrew Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, who served with Brown on the Connecticut Foundation for Open Government and choked up with emotion upon learning of Brown’s death.
“Even when he disagreed with others, he had a way of expressing his disagreement that was so thoughtful and gentlemanly that it was extremely disarming,” Fleischmann said. “I hope they name awards, or buildings, or both after him.”
Brown graduated in 1940 from Fitch High School in Groton and served in World War II, then joined WNLC in New London as a radio broadcaster.
He was elected to the state House in 1952 and later rose to speaker, presiding over a chamber of 290 members _ forcing Brown to spend up to an hour to read their names aloud for roll call votes, a task later erased when the Capitol installed electronic tallying equipment.

After his legislative service, Brown remained active for years in the nonprofit Connecticut Foundation for Open Government, and was the longtime lobbyist for the Connecticut Council on Freedom of Information and the Connecticut Broadcasting Association.

Brown also served more than 15 years on the state’s Gaming Policy Board, including as its chairman; and served twice on committees to guide Connecticut’s process of drawing new lines for legislative and congressional districts.

     (Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)

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