A Child of Flowers

Dr. Bartley Frank Brown, a man of many talents, died on the 1st day of November 2014, in his 98th year on this earth.  A native of Dublin, Georgia, Dr. Brown’s 97-plus year life was filled with just that, life.  Brown was a wizard at teaching, gardening and studying nearly every subject  he wanted. He loved to burst into a song.  “We’re Off To See the Wizard,” was one of his favorites. 

Frank Brown was a flower child of sorts.  As an educator in the 1960s, he refused to conform to the norm, preferring instead to let some students do their own thing,  within limits of course.  As an amateur botanist, he turned on to the beauty of tropical plants (not the smoking kind but the flowering kind.)   According to some sources, it was not unusual to see this sprightly septuagenarian walking merrily barefoot through his gardens. 

Born in 1917 in Dublin, Georgia  to B. Frank Brown, Sr. and Martha Virginia Lowther Stanley, Dr. Brown descends from several of Laurens County’s oldest families, the Stanleys, Lowthers, Moores and McCalls. His maternal grandfather, Vivian Lee Stanley, served a long term as a Prison Commissioner of the State of Georgia and was directly involved with the extradition of Paul Burns to Georgia, which was immortalized in the 1932 movie, “I Was a Fugitive From a Chain Gang.”  

His great-uncle, Harris McCall Stanley, who co-founded what became the Dublin Courier Herald, was Georgia’s first Labor Commissioner and is a member of the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame.  

Thomas McCall, the progenitor of the McCall family, was Surveyor General of Georgia as a 21-year-old and is recognized as the father of modern wine making in America.  

Following a stint in the Navy in World War II, Dr. Brown moved to Florida to continue his education.  His career in education began in 1953 when he was named Principal of Melbourne High School and later served as Superintendent of Brevard County Schools. At Melbourne High,  Brown led the way to alternative methods of learning.   

Brown’s innovative procedures included nongraded programs and establishing a library which was larger than the school’s gym.  His programs gave alternatives to the typical student.  One former student said that he would have never graduated if Brown had not given him the go ahead to graduate after memorizing the names of all of the plants on the school’s campus.  One of Brown’s forward looking innovations was the addition of Chinese to the curriculum.   

On his 90th birthday in 2007, Dr. Brown was honored with the naming of the Science and Research Center of Melbourne High School in his honor. 

Brown, a fervent learner, shared the fruits of teaching with the publishing of six books on education: The Non Graded High School, The Appropriate Placement School, Education by Appointment, Crisis in Secondary Education, The Transition of Youth to Adulthood and The Complete Guide to Prevention and Treatment of Athletic Injuries.   His successes in education drew the attention of CBS anchor Walter Cronkite and an editor of Time Magazine, which published a feature on his educational methods. 

Education was Frank Brown’s mission in life.  

His passion and love was the tropical flowering  plant.

Following his retirement, Dr. Brown traveled to tropical regions in Asia and around the world cataloging exotic plants, including the Aglaonema, twenty of which he hybridized and patented.  A popular speaker on the botanical circuit, Brown wrote and compiled three books on tropical plants, including the first ever on the popular croton. 

More than anything else, Frank Brown wanted to share the beauty of these tropical plants with the world.  Living in an environment conducive to these tropical beauties, Brown enlisted the aid of  Cleo Millare, his dearest friend.  With Cleo’s aid as the nursery manager, Brown opened his Valkaria gardens to the public.

Brown lived on a five-acre, pine tree studded home site south of Palm Bay off Interstate Highway 95.    The aging anthophile constructed a nearly two-acre garden to display his prized flowers as well give him an ideal location to continue his experiments in hybridization. 

Known as a carefree and happy man by those who met him, including myself, Dr. Brown lived where he loved and loved where he lived.  He would live nowhere else in the world.  

During his retirement years, Brown was frequently summoned by Florida governors and education officials seeking his advice on old problems and new trends in education.  And, once in a while, the President of the United States would call for guidance, presidents Kennedy, Carter and Johnson to name a few. 

But now, back to the flowers.  Brown, who held a couple of patents shy of thirty and the title of a Fullbright Scholar,  was self taught in botany. He never had a class in botany. Brown learned what he knew by reading books, visiting gardens and observing the plants in their natural habitats.   His interest in tropical plants was sparked when he took a trip to the Philippines on an assignment for the Department of Defense.

Dr. B. Frank Brown’s legacy to Melbourne and Palm Bay cannot be understated.  He put his school on the map for his successful, non-traditional educational methods> His most lasting legacy, the Valkaria Gardens, will be where lovers of beautiful lush tropical flowers gather for as long as there is someone there to tend the gardens to keep the beauty of Brown’s dream alive.

To visit Valkaria Gardens online go to www.valkariagardens.com