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Joellen Brown, 65, Verizon communications executive, dies after pedestrian accident

Joellen Brown had rheumatoid arthritis, but it didn't stop her. She lived a life filled with professional success, many friends, and engaging volunteer work.

Joellen Brown
Joellen BrownRead moreCourtesy of Jay Grossman (custom credit)

When Joellen Brown came to Philadelphia for her graduate work in English at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, she brought with her an unwelcome companion: rheumatoid arthritis.

But she didn’t let the disease stop her. Instead, it strengthened her resolve to do whatever she wanted in life.

“We all felt Joellen was one of the bravest people we've ever known,” said her friend Jay Grossman. “She was clear-eyed and moved ahead. If there was an obstacle, she worked around it. She was just an amazing woman.”

Ms. Brown became a senior communications executive at Verizon Corp., served as a longtime board member of Philadelphia Young Playwrights, studied drawing at Fleisher Art Memorial, immersed herself in great literature, and traveled the world. She had many friends who admired her intelligence, compassion, and keen wit.

On Friday, March 22, Ms. Brown, 65, who walked with the aid of a cane, stepped off the curb at 21st and Lombard Streets, a block from her home near Rittenhouse Square, and was hit by a delivery van as it backed up. She died two days later at Penn Presbyterian Hospital from complications of head trauma, said the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled the death an accident.

Born and raised in Columbus, Ohio, Ms. Brown graduated from West High School there in 1971. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English in 1975 from Ohio Wesleyan University, where she was a member of Phi Beta Kappa and received the Slocum Prize as outstanding graduate in the humanities. At Penn, she earned a master’s degree in English.

After her studies, Ms. Brown taught English at Bryn Mawr College and Rutgers University-Camden. She left academia to work for the Human Resources Network, a public affairs consultancy in Philadelphia.

She joined Bell Atlantic Corp. on Jan. 1, 1984, opening day of the Baby Bell created in the break-up of the Bell System and a forerunner to Verizon. In 2000, she became head of Verizon’s executive communications department, crafting speeches and presentations for three successive company chairmen, as well as other senior officers. She mentored many on her staff, Grossman said.

She retired on Dec. 31, 2017, as Verizon’s director of executive communications. In retirement, she settled her mother’s estate in Ohio and arranged to take art lessons.

“She was very concerned about what she would do with her time in retirement, but her friends never worried about it,” Grossman said.

Ms. Brown served on the board of Philadelphia Young Playwrights starting in 1992 and was still active as a trustee at the time of her death. Executive director Lisa Nelson-Haynes said Ms. Brown “was progressive and proactive” with teaching artists and students and loved to attend the classes that the group sponsors.

“If you walked into a room with her, you would think her a quiet, reserved person, but when it came time for her to contribute, she would just light up,” Nelson-Haynes said. “She was very much respected by everyone. That’s why we involved her in such a big part of our process. She was in no way, shape, or form just sitting on the board.”

When it came time for contest entries to be judged, she read through a mound of plays, and gave feedback to the playwrights. “Her commitment to us was comprehensive,” Nelson-Haynes said. “She will be sorely missed.”

Ms. Brown established the Janet L. Brown ’79 Endowment in Support of Libraries at Ohio Wesleyan and made provision in her will to create the Joellen Brown ’75 Endowed Scholarship Fund at the university.

Janet Brown, her sister, died earlier, as did a brother, Stephen. She is survived by two nieces.

A life celebration will be from noon to 2 p.m. Saturday, April 6, at Philadelphia Young Playwrights, 1219 Vine St., Philadelphia. Burial will be private.

Donations may be made to Philadelphia Young Playwrights via