Johnny Brown, one of the greatest natural athletes in the South in the early 1940's, was compared to Jim Thorpe because of his prowess and versatility in track, football and baseball. He excelled for the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary before winning acclaim on a star-studded Army team packed with All-Americans and then competing for William and Mary.
A high scoring tailback, a leading hitter in baseball, and top scorer on the track team, Brown scored six firsts in one track meet and set a state AAU long jump record of 22'11" in 1940. In 1946, after having been away from track for five years, Brown won a college pole vault event with one jump, using a borrowed pole.
During World War II, Private Brown made the Fort Riley (Kansas) football team loaded with stars from such schools as Tennessee and Ohio State. Although he had once been "too small" to play football at Maury High, he was to beat out All-American Benny Sheridan of Notre Dame to lead Fort Riley in scoring and to the Sunflower Bowl. He also earned orders to Officers' Candidate School.
With the war past, along with service as an assault gun troop commander under General George Patton, Brown returned to college. He earned a starting slot in football and set records for a track team that he captained, before graduating from William and Mary in 1948. He returned for master's degree in 1953. His continuing interest in the Army was highlighted in 1979 when Colonel John W. Brown, Jr., a former commander of the Forth Brigade, was honored in a retirement ceremony.
The former dean's list student, hired by the Norfolk school system in 1948, coached outstanding Grandy High track and football teams before becoming principal there. Brown also found time to play professional football with the Norfolk Shamrocks, as well as earn all-star honors and batting titles in Norfolk City League baseball.