WARNER ROBINS --
When I went to see “Downtown” Judy Brown last week, I wasn’t anywhere near downtown.
There were no tall buildings or sidewalks. Her home was a lodge, tucked away in the woods by a small pond. The birds were singing. It was peaceful.
Judy grew up in Warner Robins, a city with no defined downtown. Warner Robins is grids of streets and strips of shopping centers, surrounded by pockets of neighborhoods and schools. If someone asks to meet in downtown Warner Robins, you will respond with a “Do what?”
I later learned “downtown” is not always a place but a state of mind. It is the epicenter of attention, the life of the party.
That is the best definition of Judy.
Wherever she goes, downtown goes with her.
Lately, though, she is unable to stray far from her chair or bed. She is a prisoner in her own home, saddled with a terrible disease that has her arms and legs in a lockdown. She suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. It runs in her family. ALS claimed the life of her father 30 years ago.
Judy is 52 years old and was diagnosed with ALS three years ago this summer. She is now in the final stages, under the care of her family and hospice.
When folks come by to try and lift her spirits, it usually ends up the other way around.
To help raise awareness of ALS and to raise money for the Brown family’s medical expenses, there will be a bake sale and screening of the documentary film “Hope on the Horizon” at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the American Legion Post 172 at 1345 Radio Loop in Warner Robins. Admission is $10 and is tax deductible. The event is sponsored by Hospice Care Options in Warner Robins (where donations also can be made) and HARK Inc., an ALS charity organization.
Judy is quick to point out she was “Downtown Judy Brown” long before there was a “Downtown Julie Brown” of MTV fame.
Her husband, David, gave her the nickname. A few of his friends started calling him “Uptown,” so he figured his wife needed a town of her own.
“Downtown is somebody who is energetic and happening, bustling with activity,” said family friend Jenny Hattaway. “Judy has filled that persona in her circle of friends. She is the leader of the pack. There has always been something going on around Judy. And if there wasn’t, she was going to make it happen.”
David describes their 32-year marriage as a “fairy tale.” They met at Punziano’s Showcase Lounge on Watson Boulevard. Judy was only 17 years old, so she’s not really sure how she got in the door. After dating for a year, they broke up. She graduated from Warner Robins High in 1980.
“My father told me he was tired of me moping around the house and crying all the time, so he sent me to Anchorage, Alaska, to live with my sister,” said Judy. “I went up there, got a job and moved into my own apartment. I would probably still be there if David hadn’t gotten on a plane and come up there with an engagement ring.”
Yes, David proposed and took “Downtown” back to the International City. They married in December 1981 and built a life together. They have three children -- Dustin, Dave and Jinger.
Judy held jobs at a bank and a grocery store before starting her 21-year career as a mail carrier with the post office in Bonaire. She enjoyed her work, especially getting to know the people along her route.
She learned to drive her Ford Granada, and later a Subaru, with her left hand and left foot while sitting in the passenger seat. It usually worked well -- except for the time a child put a cat in a mailbox. When Judy opened it ... well, let’s just say her foot accidentally mashed the gas pedal, and there was one less mailbox on that route.
It wasn’t that Judy didn’t have an affinity for animals. She once brought home a wild rabbit. They named him “Bugs” and raised him. She also persuaded David to keep a baby squirrel that had been knocked from its nest by a bulldozer. They named him “Sport.”
For five years, David and Judy invited hundreds of friends to their annual “Barn Burners” party at their farm. One year, the theme was “Barn To Be Wild,” and Randall Bramblett and his band provided the music.
Judy’s daughter, Jinger, describes her mom as “patient and graceful.” As the disease has progressed and Judy has been unable to do things for herself, her family and friends have stepped up to the plate as caregivers.
“Although it has been difficult to let go of things, she has been able to ask us for what she has needed without being demanding or impatient,” Jinger said. “She is very much a peacemaker. She has a way of balancing things out between people.”
That is what her friend, Jenny, admires about her, too.
“People love her because she doesn’t approach life with any kind of prejudice or judgment,” she said. “She is a very accepting person of anyone put in her path. She loves people where they are. As we have watched her deal with this disease, those strengths are even more powerful. And when I can see it’s still Judy in there, I am drawn to her like a little moth. I want to soak up that strength she has. I want that part of her with me, even when she isn’t.”
Contact Gris at 744-4275 or firstname.lastname@example.org.