Alice Clark Brown, 68, of Oak Park, died on June 6, 2021. Born in Chicago, she had lived in Oak Park since 1986. As a teenage Andy Frain usher, she caught the eye of an official for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus. A year later, in 1972, she became the first Black dancer/aerialist in Ringling’s Blue Unit, one of the circus’ two touring companies. She enjoyed recounting nights of riding elephants and days of living on the circus train, visiting major metropolises and small towns along the way. Life on the road had its lows due to racism — not being served in a Texas restaurant and ants in her food at a Florida eatery — but the highs more than made up for the Southern inhospitality.
While doing publicity for Ringling, she met stars such as actor Fred MacMurray and pro football player Roosevelt Grier. She and two other Ringling performers were interviewed once on national TV by Barbara Walters.
After three years in the circus, she became a tour guide at Johnson Publishing Co.’s headquarters in Chicago. It was there that she met the man who would become her husband for 44 years, journalist Geoff Brown.
In 1993, Alice portrayed Nettie in the original cast of Black Ensemble Theater’s production, Precious Lord, Take My Hand. Later Alice would sing at jazz open mics across the Chicago area, with the stage name “Brandee” Brown. She played piano a few semesters with one of the Triton College jazz bands and was also a frequent participant in the annual Oak Park International Film Festival.
After overseeing her own children’s education, she made good on a promise to her mother to finish college. In 2004, she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Illinois Chicago. Another passion was writing. She penned short stories, plays, poems and freelance newspaper articles.
Her concern for the plight of others led to training for substance abuse counseling. She donated time to a domestic abuse hot line.
She was vice president of the DuSable High School Alumni Coalition for Action. Through the coalition’s efforts, the city of Chicago granted the high school campus landmark status in 2013.
During her last years of life, she developed end-stage renal disease. Ultimately, various issues with low blood pressure led to hospitalizations. Exhaustive testing during her final hospitalization got to the bottom of her troubles. A rare affliction, amyloidosis, had been ravaging her organs for an unknown length of time, leading to interstitial lung disease. She died peacefully at home. Services were held June 17.
Alice Clark Brown is survived by her husband, Geoff Sr., a retired Chicago Tribune associate managing editor; her son, Geoffrey Jr.; her daughter, Christina; her brother, Gerry; her sister, Anna; her niece, Shana; and several cousins.