Robert M. Brown
Robert M. Brown

February 17, 1934 - August 7, 2017
Born in National City, CA
Resided in Des Moines, IA
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Robert Milton (“Bob”) Brown passed away on August 7, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa, where he had moved with his loving wife Gwendolyn Haakinson Brown to be near her family after spending most of his life in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Bob was 83 years old, born February 17, 1934, in National City, San Diego County, California, the oldest child of Kenneth Elbert Brown and Evelyn Beth (Christy) Brown. He is survived by his wife, Gwen; his four sons David Hunter Brown (Pamela) of Henryville, Pennsylvania; Michael Kenneth Brown (Madeleine) of San Ramon, California; Robert Michael Brown of South Lake Tahoe, California; and Christian Nicholas Brown (Jamie) of Tahoe City, California; his sister Janet Atkins (Richard) of Brazil, Indiana; his sisters in law Joanne Jessica (“JJ”) Haakinson and Betty Elgin and his brother in law Bill (“Hawk”) Haakinson (Lori), all of Des Moines, Iowa; his eleven grandchildren: Kelly Joy Austin (David) of Point Roberts, Wash., Colby Thomas Brown (Sarah Elizabeth) of Cresco, Pennsylvania, Shannon Ruth Bush (Robert Andrew) of Austin, Texas, Matthew Brown of San Francisco, Calif., Christie Brown of Long Beach, Calif., Brian Brown of Denver, Colo., Natalie Brown of Danville, Calif., Makenna Stephanie Deal and Samantha Lynn Deal of San Ramon, Calif.; Emma Brown of Tahoe City, California, and Alanna Brown, Calistoga, CA; along with four great-grandchildren, Jack Hunter Brown of Cresco, Pennsylvania, Jamie Austin of Point Roberts, Washington; and Berkley Bush and Barrow Bush of Austin, Texas. Bob was predeceased by his parents and by his granddaughter Isabel Bee Brown.
Bob grew up in San Diego and Pacific Beach before the family moved to Altadena, California, where he attended Elliott Junior High School, John Muir High School, and John Muir Junior College before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley. At Berkeley, he studied political science and played basketball and rugby for legendary Cal coaches Pete Newell and “Doc” Hudson. Bob’s passion for Cal athletics never wavered.
On June 23, 1953, Bob enlisted in the United States Marines and was selected for the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class in Pasadena, California. He attained the rank of sergeant before being appointed a Second Lieutenant in 1955. After successfully completing Basic School in Quantico, Virginia, Bob was posted to A Company, 1st Battalion, 7th Marines, in the 1st Marine Division (the “Mighty First”), at Camp Pendleton in Oceanside, California. There, Bob was selected to attend the Naval Justice School, where he defended Marines facing military discipline. After completing active duty, Bob continued to serve in the Reserve Forces for over a decade, attaining the rank of Captain. He was honorably discharged in 1968.Following his military service, Bob returned to the Bay Area and was admitted to Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California, Berkeley. To the consternation of his professors, Bob continued to play rugby for Cal during law school, but nevertheless graduated near the top of his class in 1960.Bob went to school at the same time as such famous students as former U.S. Attorney General Edwin Meese and former Governor of California Pete Wilson.
Bob’s first job as an attorney was in the legal department of the Pacific Gas & Electric Company in San Francisco, where he handled a trial only two months after being admitted to the State Bar in January 1961. Following PG&E, he joined Cooley, Crowley, Gaither, Godward, Castro & Huddleson in San Francisco, which at the time consisted of less than 20 attorneys. Now known simply as Cooley LLP, the firm has offices across the country with nearly 1,000 lawyers, one of whom is Bob’s grandson, Matthew Michael Brown. Bob later worked with Carroll, Burdick & McDonough before forming his own law firm Brown, Joseph & Finney, where he continued until starting a solo practice in Lake Tahoe.
Bob’s formidable skills as a trial attorney were aided by his gregarious personality, quick wit, and hearty laugh. Bob handled hundreds of civil jury trials, earning praise and respect as one of the top plaintiff’s trial lawyers in the San Francisco Bay Area and California. He was especially proud of having represented the first plaintiff to successfully hold the tobacco companies responsible for illness caused by smoking. He handled many high-profile cases, including claims of shipyard workers made ill from exposure to asbestos, franchisees, and other clients. A number of his cases are reported in the official state and federal appellate records of California, including at least one case which was taken up by the United States Supreme Court.In 2011, he received a certificate for his 50 years as an active member of the State Bar of California.
Bob loved being a father to his four sons, and was involved in their lives through many activities, including coaching baseball and basketball teams, teaching them to mountain climb in Yosemite and sail on San Francisco Bay, trips to Hawaii, skiing at Squaw Valley and other Sierra resorts, introducing them to Colorado, Cal football and basketball games, and rooting for the San Francisco Giants and 49ers. In addition to his grandson, two of Bob’s four sons, Michael and Christian, practice law in California.
After raising his boys, Bob married Gwen on October 3, 1998 at the St. Francis Yacht Club in San Francisco, where they lived before moving to the Marina Bay area of Richmond. They both enjoyed sailing on the Bay, Cal athletics, and life in the Bay Area.In early 2013, Bob having retired from the law, Bob and Gwen moved to Des Moines, Iowa, surrounded by the loving Haakinson family where Gwen grew up. This chapter of Bob’s life was full of family and joyful celebrations, and regular visits to Bob’s favorite ribs restaurant, Famous Dave’s, and also to Chef’s Kitchen in Beaverdale.
Bob was known by his family and friends to have a huge and generous heart, which extended to his love of his dogs and cats which were part of his family and constant companions. Bob passed that love on through the several generations of his family.
As per his wishes, the family will hold a celebration of life in San Francisco, with plans pending.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Bob’s memory to the Sierra Club, of which he was a lifetime member, or to the Furry Friends Refuge animal shelter in West Des Moines. The family wishes to thank all of the doctors and nurses at the VA Central Iowa Health Center, particularly Dr. Debra Benjamin, and also Wesley Acres in Des Moines, for their loving care in recent weeks.


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Sierra Club Iowa Chapter
3839 Merle Hay Road
Des Moines, IA 50310
Furry Friends Refuge
1211 Grand Avenue
West Des Moines, IA 50265
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