Philanthropic Puzzling

In Baltimore’s Ivy Hotel parlor, a woman in a blue dress and man in a grey suit sit down to assemble a hand-carved jigsaw puzzle.

“She is excellent at these,” said the soft-spoken gentleman. “The question is: Where do I start?”

Florida-born Edward “Eddie” Carl Brown (B.S.E.E., ’61) of Allentown, Pa., started with what he recalled about meeting his wife—then Carmen Sylvia Thurston (B.S., ’62) of King William, Va.

“I remember the story was that, in our freshman year, we did not meet,” said Eddie, then an electrical engineering student and member of Omega Psi Phi. “But, my fraternity brother told me that his girlfriend’s roommate from freshman year was anxious to meet me.”

C. Sylvia Brown—the daughter of a high school principal and teacher— remembered something different.

“That’s not true,” she exclaimed, many years familiar with the tongue-and-cheek revisionist history of her first days as a member of Delta Sigma Theta and a physi- cal education student. 

While they may affectionately disagree on how it all began, C. Sylvia knew that Eddie was far more than just a college boyfriend when he met her family and they were “OK” with him.

The two later married and moved to Monmouth, N.J.—Eddie to spend two years in the Army and C. Sylvia to teach in a nearby city. From there to IBM and parenthood, to New York and Indiana, to M.B.A. and Masters of Public Health, and eventually to Baltimore, money/ property management, entrepreneurship and philanthropy. 

To date, the couple has donated more than $250,000 to Howard University programs. From education to the arts to public health, the Browns have kept their charitable giving grounded in familial interests, interlocking need with reason.

“We wanted to have our daughters and, futuristically, our grandchildren— grandsons, in this case—involved, incentivized to think beyond themselves, about others, in kind of a multigen- erational mindset of giving back,” said Eddie.

The couple likes to travel with their own family, expanding the classroom for their grandchildren.

“One of the next family trips I hope we can take is down to Selma,” said Eddie, snapping a piece of the puzzle into place. “What’s important to us is to have our grandchildren know the history and the struggles and be able to not take it for granted.” 

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