At 71, Robert P. Brown to get his diploma

May 06, 1999

Robert Brown GraduatesBy BRUCE HAMILTON / Staff Writer

photographer: JOE CROCETTA / staff photographer

Robert Preston Brown Jr. is going to receive his diploma - 54 years after leaving school and entering the U.S. Army.

Brown, a 71-year-old Hagerstown resident, recently completed the Maryland External Diploma Program. He plans to wear the cap and gown in a graduation ceremony at South Hagerstown High School on June 10.

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War was waning when Brown decided not to spend his senior year at East Bank High School in East Bank, W.Va. He turned 18 years old in September 1945 and was drafted soon afterward.


He married his longtime sweetheart, Jean, in the two weeks between Signal Corps school in Fort Monmouth, N.J., and assignment to Yokohama, Japan. They have been together ever since.

Brown returned to their hometown, Glasgow, W.Va., Jan. 19, 1946. He immediately took a job with a gas company. "School was out of the question," he said.

He held a variety of construction jobs over the years, including a 16-year stint as business manager of a plumbers and pipefitters union and operating pneumatic equipment for Johnson Controls.

He worked on Smithsburg High School, Pleasant Valley Elementary School and the first buildings at Hagerstown Junior College, but he didn't think too much about finishing his education.

His wife prodded him persistently. "I just kept after him all these years," she said.

Last year, Brown noticed a newspaper ad for an adult education program. The program offered a state diploma, not a GED, so he applied.

"I thought I would sit in class, listen to the teacher, take lessons and do homework," he said. "It was nothing like that."

Instead, Brown did a lot of work on his own under the supervision of an adviser. He studied traditional subjects like math, figuring decimals and percentages.

But some tasks were unexpected, such as visiting banks to investigate loan information. Brown went to Hagerstown Trust and told a teller, "you're not going to believe this, but I'm going to school."

He had to memorize life-saving techniques, read mileage charts, compare the facts and opinions in newspapers and TV media. He analyzed the causes and effects of government decisions.

"It wasn't like I thought it would be," Brown said.

The program takes an average of five months. Students meet weekly at the adult education office behind the Washington County Technical High School on Oak Ridge Drive.

They must demonstrate 64 life skills in one-on-one sessions to complete the program. There are no grades or tests, according to adviser Marsha Bannon. Students are screened and given spot checks.

"This is something you have to stick with and be motivated to do," she said. This year, the program has about 40 graduates, she said. It has graduated 1,248 adults since its creation in 1978.

Brown was a good student who turned everything in on time, according to Bannon. "He just did great in the program. He was careful and thorough."

Brown, who has been retired nine years, didn't find the course difficult. Writing paragraphs was his least favorite requirement. "They kept me on edge," he said. "I'll never be a writer."

He didn't tell his family about going back to school, fearing they might tease him if he failed. Once he finished, he told his son, who attended South Hagerstown High School.

Brown's son, grandson, granddaughter and great-granddaughter plan to attend his graduation, according to his wife.

Brown said he won't go to college, but he may take an occupational Spanish course at Hagerstown Community College. He attends Hagerstown's Church of the Nazarene and a Hispanic congregation meets there, he said.

Asked if he enjoyed the extra education, Brown turned his clear blue eyes to his wife. "Did I have any fun?" he asked, smiling. "We laughed a lot."

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