WESTFIELD, NJ — This week, Francis Brown will celebrate the beginning of his 18th year as a substitute teacher at Westfield High School. Brown is known for bringing smiles to the faces of students and faculty.
Brown's start in education came late, after his retirement from other fields. He started out in the elementary schools, but after just three short days he knew it wasn't for him.
“I didn’t know how to handle them; I can’t be a bright adult with these kids,” he said.
He then went into the middle school. After lasting three months he did not feel the fit was right there, either.
“Unfortunately, eighth grade boys have a need to demonstrate their independence,” Brown said.
In 2001 Brown officially started a substitute at Westfield High School, and to this day he said he continues to love what he does.
Although he subs for many different classes his favorite is any type of history class, he said, “Only because I lived through a lot of it, so I know things that no teacher can read out of a book because they did not live through it.”
There are certain topics that teachers at the high school can teach through text books and readings, but cannot share any type of personal experience, he explained.
Brown was born during the depression, and he refers to himself as “a depression child.” He said that his parents instilled in him the values of what it means to be successful even though he was born during hard times.
Students ranging from freshman to seniors light up when Brown enters the room.
“Everyone always gets so excited when Mr. Brown walks into the room,” senior Sarah Fox said. “Not just because we have a sub, but that we have the best sub. He always has a life lesson to share. Even when he's outside of the class, he always makes an effort to say hi in the halls which is really special.”
Another senior, Lucy Gretsky has known Brown for years, as he lived just down the street from her.
“I can always count on him to brighten up my day,” Gretsky said. “I’ve come to know him very well and every other student who has gotten to know him will tell you the same thing — he’s an extraordinary person who genuinely cares about every person in the school whether that’d be a student, teacher or janitor … I’ve never met someone who put so many people before themselves. Kindness is a rarity that few genuinely possess. Then again, there isn’t anyone like Mr. Brown.”
In the small amount of free time he has, Brown said he does a lot of reading in his private library.
“The basis of everything I do is reading. I like history books — in other words, I am not a big fiction reader,” Brown said
Although Brown is a huge history buff especially when it comes to the Civil War, he also like to keep up on what is in recent news.
“When I go home at night I look at The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the British Times and the Sunday Times. I want to read their writers and reporters. They are amazing,” he said.
Brown grew up in Newark and went to Saint Peter’s Prep, then applied to Stevens Tech and the Newark College of Engineering.
“It was $1,200 a semester to go to Stevens Tech, and only $675 for Newark College of Engineering,” he said. So for him, Brown said, the choice was obvious: a less expensive school for the same education. Within four years, Brown graduated with a mechanical engineering degree and an industrial engineering degree.
After graduating, he had nearly 10 job offers.
“You were guaranteed a job because it was the years following World War II,” Brown explained.
Out of college he worked at Johnson & Johnson for 10 years — five years with baby products and the next five making syringes and needles. Afterward, he took a few small jobs that eventually landed him on Wall Street.
“When you get onto Wall Street, you take various jobs because you are exposed to various jobs,” he said.
By then, Brown had started a family — his wife was a nurse and their only daughter was in school — and he wanted to buy a house.
“And then we heard about Westfield. It was the town to live in,” he said.
Westfield had all that he wanted, Brown said — good schools and an easy commute to the city. His brother lived just down the street, and they would commute to New York together and were able to stay close. After a while, Brown and his family moved to the house that he still lives in today.
“I sold our first house and built the house I still live in now on Lawrence Avenue,” he said.
Soon after, he retired, which then brought him to the Westfield School District a short two years after.
“I retired at 58. I said enough of this commuting to New York. Who needs it?” he said. “I did nothing for two years, then I realized you can’t do nothing. That’s when I saw an ad in the paper that said local substitutes needed for Westfield schools.”
March 21 will be the start of his 18th year at the high school. Brown said he is excited to see what else is to come in the job he’s so passionate about.
Nicole Dispenza is a student at Westfield High School participating in a journalism program with TAPinto Westfield.