Through his retirement years, LeRoy Brown retained his quick wit.
Brown, the first principal in the history of Truman High School, died Wednesday at the age of 87, survived by his wife of 63 years, Carol, and a son and three daughters.
When Truman High School opened in 1964 as the second high school in the Independence School District, Brown was the school's leader, and he remained in that position for 27 years before retiring in 1991. When the school hosted its first-ever on-campus varsity football game in October 2015, it brought back Brown to do the coin flip before kickoff.
“When I was asked to do this,” Brown told The Examiner at the time, “I told Dr. Herl (Dale Herl, ISD superintendent) that I would do it on two conditions. First, I had to still be alive. And second, they had to provide the coin.”
Roberta Coker, the district's director of communications from 1979-2001, said Brown had always been proud of being the school's first principal. Both were past recipients of the district's PTA Council “Citizen of the Year” Award, and as such always were invited for the annual Founders Day Breakfast. Coker said Brown would quip that it was nice of them “to remember the old folks.”
“He had a dry sense of humor,” she said. “You had to know how to take it, but he was always funny.
“We knew he was battling a couple health issues, and when he wasn't at this year's Founders Day Breakfast (Feb. 2), that was kind of sad. He had a lot of great students and lot of good teachers that went through that building.”
Hap Graff, president and CEO of the Independence Chamber of Commerce, was part of Truman's third graduating class in 1967. He remembers a recent class reunion where a classmate asked Brown, “Was I really that bad as a student?”
Brown's reply: “You were in the office so much I thought you were an assistant principal.”
“He was still of full mind and good mind,” Graff said. “He always had a great wit.”
Ken Johnston, a member of ISD's Board of Education, said he first knew of Brown when Johnston taught at his alma mater William Chrisman and Brown led Truman High School, then became friends with him later in their careers and while both were in the Independence Lions Club.
“People just loved him,” Johnston said. “I don't know anybody that didn't care for him. Everybody's going to miss him.”
Brown graduated from Green Ridge High School in 1947 and from the University of Central Missouri in 1951. Drafted into the Marine Corps, he received the rank of staff sergeant before receiving an honorable discharge in 1953. The next year began his career in education as a teacher at Santa Fe High School. He later joined the Independence District as a science teacher, earned a degree in school administration from UMKC and became an assistant principal and then principal before leading Truman High School.
Herl said Brown's death is a sad day for the district.
“LeRoy meant a lot to us all,” Herl said in an emailed statement. “He was so proud of our students and schools, and that was evident as he joined us for the first home game at Truman Stadium. LeRoy had a profound impact on our schools and our community and will be deeply missed.”
In all, 12,775 students graduated from Truman during Brown's tenure, and he was inducted into the school's hall of fame in 2011. Besides the Lions Club, Brown was an active member of the First Baptist Church of Independence and numerous professional organizations.
“He was kind of a legend in our town,” Graff said.