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'A gentleman, first and foremost'

Paul Brown, former village trustee, dies of Covid-19 at 73

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Paul Brown had a big smile.

As a former village trustee, Monica Senior Village Apartments board member, husband, father, grandfather, avid Mets fan, keen debater and man of faith, among many other roles, his perhaps most striking characteristic, according to friends and family, was his warm, friendly smile.

“He was very likable,” his daughter, Deborah Rahaii, said.

“If you could see his smile, you knew it,” longtime friend Diane Panzarino said. “He was just an all-around nice guy.”

Brown died on Oct. 14 at age 73. The cause of death was complications of Covid-19.

A Brooklyn native, he moved with his wife, Laurel, to Valley Stream in 1972, where he worked as an independent salesman out of an office in the basement of their Euclid Street home, selling soundproofing equipment to building contractors. From 1991 to 1995, he served on the village board of trustees under the George Donely administration, and more recently, from 2015 to 2017, on the Charles Monica Senior Village Apartments board.

During his first run for office, he sought the help of Joanne Antun, a neighbor on Fenimore Street, where Brown moved with his family in 1984, to hand out campaign literature.

“During those early years, when you’re learning the ropes — and there are many ropes to learn,” Antun recalled, “I always remember a piece of advice Paul Brown gave me, which was, ‘Never forget that you work for the people of Valley Stream.’”

Antun ran for trustee herself in 1992, and in 2010 became the village’s first female mayor, before stepping down in 2011. The two also served on the Monica Senior Village board together.

At a meeting on Brown’s porch, while the two were reviewing a Monica Village budget, Antun recalled, she was struck by something Brown said. He had recounted a story from a Bible study class at Grace United Methodist Church, where he and his wife were active congregants.

“It was kind of an ‘aha’ moment for me,” she said. “I saw the thread that tied everything together . . . He was a man of faith.”

Brown, she said, was living proof of the golden rule: treat others as you would like them to treat you.

Brown and his wife were involved in a number of church activities at Grace Methodist, according to Panzarino, who met Brown roughly 35 years ago at a church couples club that he and his wife were a part of. In addition to Bible study, he taught Sunday school there and was chairman of a number of church committees. He also represented the church at the United Methodist Annual Conference, Panzarino said.

“He did a lot of things at the church,” she said, “and for the many things he did, he rose to the top.”

Brown, his daughter and Panzarino agreed, fully dedicated himself to anything he set his sights on.

“If he was interested in something, it wasn’t just a simple interest,” Rahaii said. “He would throw himself in.”

In addition to his run for local office, Brown was a member of the local Elks Lodge, where served as Exalted Ruler, the highest post in the club.

And not content simply to coach baseball while his son, Keith, played in the late 1980s, he was president of the Valley Stream Little League. He was also heavily involved with his daughter’s sports. When she ran track and cross-country in high school, and later college, he, too, started running. In 1993 Brown ran the Long Island Half Marathon, and in 1996 he ran the New York City Marathon.

He also enjoyed engaging in friendly debates and sharing his ideas, but was careful not to push too far.

“He was using facts to get you on his side, but if you didn’t agree, it was all in good fun,” Rahaii said.

“He enjoyed initiating people in very polite debate,” Panzarino said.

Ultimately, however, it was Brown’s kind humor and smile, friends and family said that were perhaps his most defining traits.

“Paul was a gentleman, first and foremost,” Panzarino said. “. . . He was an easy person to get along with and had a joke for any scenario. He enjoyed getting a chuckle out of people.”

She and other community members raised funds to dedicate a bench at Hendrickson Park, where Paul and Laurel often enjoyed walks. The village is scheduled to install it in the spring.

“I think a lot of people feel the loss, not just his family,” his daughter said. “I think he had an impact on a lot of people.”

In addition to his wife, daughter and son, Brown is survived by his sisters, Barbara Michalski and Pat Burton; brothers, Stephen and Larry, and granddaughters, Colleen, Casey and Grace Brown and Leily and Andie Rahaii.

A wake was held on Oct. 19 at the Lieber Funeral Home in Valley Stream. Brown was buried at the Calverton National Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, the family asked that donations be made to the Epilepsy Foundation.