CHATHAM, NJ - Longtime Chatham resident Leanna Brown had many firsts in politics. She was the first woman to serve on the Borough Council, the first woman to win a seat in the New Jersey Assembly, and the first woman elected to the State Senate.
Brown’s accomplishments are “impressive for any person, male or female,” borough Mayor Bruce Harris said during the GOP's annual celebration of President Lincoln’s Birthday at Café Beethoven on Sunday.
“Leanna worked for improved transportation, fiscal responsibility, emergency preparedness, affordable housing, and international trade,” Harris said. “And she epitomizes the values as a resident of Chatham for over 50 years.” Harris presented Brown with a resolution the council will pass at Monday night’s meeting.
Brown, 77, served on the Borough Council from 1969 to 1972 and then was elected to the Morris County Board of Chosen Freeholders. She was named freeholder director in 1976 and president of the New Jersey Association of Counties in 1978.
In 1980 Brown won a special election in the New Jersey General Assembly and was re-elected in 1981. Brown became the first woman from the Republican Party to serve in the upper house of the State Legislature when in 1983 she won a seat in the State Senate serving the 26th Legislative District.
Upon her reitrement in 1993, Brown was appointed as the New Jersey Casino Control Commissioner. She currently writes a syndicated column, Upbeat New Jersey, for New Jersey Hills newspapers.
An Inspiration and Role-Model
Brown made a point throughout her career of encouraging talented people to get involved with government. She mentored and championed hundreds of excellent public servants throughout her career. From 2007 to 2009, she served on the President’s Commission on White House Fellows.
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz said Brown was a “tremendous role model” for her and other women in public service. “We do bring a different aspect to Trenton. People like Leanna make sure we have that balance.”
Freeholder Ann Grossman said Brown’s work on the U.S. Commission for Civil Rights in 2010 “set the standard we all have to live by, and she set it high.”
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen said Brown made real strides breaking into politics in a male-dominated world. “She has probably done more for women and girls that we even know,” he said.
The group also praised Brown’s commitment to family. Freeholder Hank Lyon spoke of the memorial service of Leanna’s late husband William “Stan” Brown, who passed way on Jan. 16 at the age of 77. “It was one of the most touching services I’ve been to and I want to have a marriage like you had with Stan,” Lyon told Brown.
Leanna and Stan married in 1956 after she graduated from Smith College and he from Yale University. Stan pioneered computer science and information systems for Bell Labs and was an active volunteer, serving as a trustee of the College of Science and Liberal Arts at NJIT and president of the Stanley Congregational Church. Many describe his support of his wife’s work as steadfast.
Brown will be moving to Morristown in the spring, but says she intends to stay active in Chatham. “I’ll be back to celebrate Lincoln’s birthday next year,” Brown said. “I have loved Chatham since I moved here in 1961. It is a wonderful community.”