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Irving "Sonny" Brown '56 Receives Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni Award for Years of Rotary Service

Sonny Brown with his wife Ann at Pomona College Alumni Weekend 2011

Sonny Brown with his wife Ann at Alumni Weekend 2011

Sonny Brown with Jonathan at an AIDS orphanage in South Africa

Sonny Brown with Jonathan at an AIDS orphanage in South Africa

Irving “Sonny” Brown ’56 was named a Blaisdell Distinguished Alumni for his many years of service with Rotary International. His reaction to the news of the award? “It knocked me over. I couldn’t possibly believe that Pomona would think of me after all these years.”

The Blaisdell Award honors alumni for their high achievement in their professions or community service, particularly those who have carried the spirit of the College into the rest of the world and lived up to the famous quotation from James A. Blaisdell which is inscribed into the gates of the College: "They only are loyal to the college who departing bear their added riches in trust for mankind."

Chairman and founder of Sonny Brown Associates, an international commercial and industrial real estate consulting firm now operated by his two sons as his associates, Brown’s volunteer and community efforts are extensive.

He has served Rotary International in various capacities, including as director and vice-president; a trustee; president of the Rotary Club of El Paso, Rotary District Governor; the 2001 chairman of the International Rotary Convention; moderator for the Regional Foundation Coordinators and chair of the RI Communications Committee.

For his service to the El Paso community, he was awarded El Paso’s Distinguished Service Award, an annual recognition by the Rotary Club of El Paso. He is also the recipient of the Rotary Foundation’s Citation for Meritorious Service and the Distinguished Service Awards and received Rotary’s highest award in 2006, the “Service Above Self” award. His Rotary District named their new vocational service award the “Sonny Brown Business of the Year Award,” an award given annually to companies representing the highest ethical business practices.

He and his wife Ann have traveled to more than 45 countries in their Rotary service. Among the hundreds of service projects they have participated in, one that stands out to him is a visit to an AIDS orphanage in Johannesburg, South Africa, during which the objective was to fully stock the library with books and toys, and to provide food service equipment to complete the kitchen.

“The children were well-fed and happy and were from ages one to four-years-old, all of whom had been abandoned. We met over 35 of them and learned that most of them would not likely live beyond age five. They clung to each of us as we greeted them and each stole our hearts, especially [a boy named] Jonathan who in my arms said to me, ‘Thank you, Daddy!’"

Brown has also served as director of the El Paso Industrial Development Corporation, as a commissioner on the Housing Authority of El Paso, and as vice-president and director of the El Paso Chamber of Commerce. He is a founding member of the Paso del Norte Group, a private organization of approximately 360 business and civic leaders, and currently serves as co-chair of its Bi-National Relations Committee.

An economics major, Brown said, “I loved my years at Pomona; the College provided me an atmosphere of encouragement and commitment to explore the wonderful world of service. Trusting in Him and in my family, God gave me the opportunity to make many new best friends while working together to improve the lives of others. I discovered that the true wealth is measured in His love, my family, my friends and the opportunity to serve.”

For this wealth of riches, Brown says, “I'm a billionaire!”

Brown was born in Parral Chihuahua, Mexico, and his first language is Spanish. He served as an officer in the U.S. Army Medical Service Corp. He and Ann have four children, each active in community service, and 10 grandchildren.