Sara “Sally” Elizabeth Shallenberger Brown ’32, a woman described by some as a “force of nature” for her can-do spirit and tireless work for the causes that mattered to her, died Saturday, April 30 at her home in Harrods Creek, Ky. She was 100.
Brown received a Bachelor of Arts in English at Sweet Briar and later established the Sara Shallenberger Brown Chair in English. She was a generous donor and volunteer for the College, serving on the Alumnae Board from 1946 to 1948 and the Board of Directors from 1952 to 1965. She chaired the Development Committee and obtained a major grant to build Babcock Fine Arts Center.
The Shallenberger Art Library in Babcock is named for her father, Martin Shallenberger, a general in the U.S. Army. She was named the College’s outstanding alumna in 1991 recognizing her volunteer service.
As a student Brown was president of the French Club and a member of Paint ’n’ Patches. She later studied painting at the Corcoran School of Art, the Columbus School of Art, the Academy of Fine Arts in Vienna, Austria, the Aba Novak School of Painting in Budapest, Hungary, and the Norton Gallery of Art.
She was the wife of the late W.L. Lyons Brown and had four children, W.L. Lyons Brown Jr., Martin Shallenberger Brown, Owsley Brown II and Ina Brown Bond, Sweet Briar Class of 1967. Her niece Laura Brown Deters and daughter-in-law Alice Cary Farmer also attended the College, graduating in 1963 and 1959 respectively.
Brown’s life was full from its beginning on April 14, 1911, in Valdez, Alaska, the daughter of a military officer whose career took the family across the United States and Europe. In 1935 she married Lyons Brown, who would become president and chairman of the distiller Brown-Forman Corp., which includes the Jack Daniels brand.
They made their home in Louisville, Ky., a base from which Brown embarked on a life of art, business, philanthropy and advocacy. An ardent conservationist and historical preservationist, she has supported or served dozens of educational, historical or environmental organizations and boards in Kentucky, nationally and as a U.S. representative to conferences at the United Nations.
Notable projects include leading an effort in the 1960s to preserve Locust Grove, the final home of Louisville founder George Rogers Clark. In the past couple of years, she has made contributions to support a variety of historic preservation and environmental projects at Sweet Briar, including the purchase of the signature pink bicycles used all over campus.
In addition to supporting or serving more than a dozen conservation organizations including Woods Hole Research Center, the Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund, she also fought to protect the Kentucky River Palisades from encroaching development. Her family and foundation purchased more than 600 acres to create the Sally Brown Nature Preserve in Garrard County, Ky.
In 2006 Kentucky Educational Television produced a program narrated by Joanne Woodward titled “Sally Brown: Force of Nature.” Brown also was profiled in 2007 in Louisville Magazine, and more information is available on her life in the May 1 edition of the Louisville Courier-Journal.
A funeral service will be held Wednesday, May 4 at Christ Church Cathedral in Louisville, followed by a private burial at Cave Hill Cemetery.