With its sweeping views of the Kentucky River and the city below, beautiful and historic Frankfort Cemetery is a highlight of the first annual Kentucky History Half Marathon. Just over 4 miles into the race, participants will enter the cemetery and run a “Mile of Remembrance,” striding by the final resting places of iconic pioneer Daniel Boone and his wife, Rebecca, as well as numerous other notable Kentuckians.
For half-marathoner John Brown, the “Mile of Remembrance” will be something much more personal—a tribute to his parents, who both are interred in the cemetery. His father, John Knox Brown II, was buried there just this past July after passing away at the age of 86. His mom, Mary, died in 2008.
“Mother and Dad chose to be buried in Frankfort Cemetery, and they are both resting there now in the very back section,” Brown says, “just off to the right side of the road down the middle leading to the little building in the back.”
Like his mom’s parents—Robert and Grace Heath, who also are buried in Frankfort Cemetery—their plots overlook the Capitol building below.
Brown’s connection with Frankfort comes from his mom’s side of the family. Born in 1923, Mary Catherine Heath Brown grew up in the capital. She lived in several different houses in the “old part of Frankfort” during her childhood, Brown says. “In the 1937 flood, she actually stepped out of a second story window into a boat that pulled up alongside. Needless to say, she was very scared, and made sure that we never lived in a flood plain.”
After graduating from Frankfort High School in 1940, Mary attended the University of Kentucky and, just like her father before her, earned both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.
“She went into teaching, and was on the faculty of the math department at Florida State in Tallahassee, Florida, when she met Dad,” Brown says. “After a brief courtship, they married in 1952.”
John Knox Brown II was born in 1929, the first of Frank and Ella Brown’s two children. Frank met Ella while recovering from severe wounds suffered on the battlefield during World War I. “My grandmother was either a nurse or a volunteer in the military hospital back here in the States when they met. At some point during his recovery … my grandparents married.”
They spent an extended honeymoon traveling around the West Coast before stopping for a short time in San Antonio, where Brown’s father was born. They then moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., where Brown’s father was raised and his paternal grandparents both lived until they passed away.
Brown’s parents met at Florida State while playing bridge at a campus gathering.
“He offered her a ride home, and the rest is history, as they say,” Brown says. Brown’s parents were both teachers. At one point, they were both on the faculty of Perkinston community college in Mississippi. John Brown III—our half-marathoner—was born there in 1959.
Eventually, they made their way back to Kentucky to be closer to family.
“That’s when Mom and Dad were hired as original faculty at Hazard Community College,” Brown says. “They were the first two hires there.”
Brown lived the rest of his childhood in Hazard. After graduating from Hazard High School in 1977, like his mother and grandfather before him, he headed off to Lexington to attend UK. He graduated with his bachelor’s (‘81) and master’s degrees (’87) in engineering.
“My mother was always pleased that I was a third generation UK graduate,” Brown recalls.
Last of the Originals
John Knox Brown II was the last of the original Hazard Community College faculty to leave or retire from that institution, Brown says. During his career, he taught everything in the social sciences, sponsored several student groups and served on a variety of school and community committees.
For years, he directed College Outreach Reserves (ALCOR), which placed live-in students in several area communities to provide summer recreational and educational enrichment activities. He also worked with community senior citizen programs.
“By the time he retired in 1994, he was well known throughout the community, not only for his teaching,” Brown says.
In the 1980s, Brown’s father even hosted a local radio talk show, “Talkback,” on WSGS.
“Dad was smart and very well read. He knew something about many subjects and was good at interacting with people. He was compassionate. He loved people and people loved him, especially his students. We received many letters from his former students who told us about how Dad—or Mom and Dad together—had impacted their development and their life in such a positive way. He always had time to spend with his students, whether to discuss his class room subjects or, more likely, their life and their situation.”
A Sufficient Release
After earning his bachelor’s at UK, our runner Brown joined IBM in Lexington. He then started working for Lexmark in 1991 when IBM sold the site. Adding both tenures together, he has 34 years and counting with IBM and Lexmark.
Although he’s always had a love for the outdoors, Brown only recently took up running.
“In 2011, after listening to my brother-in-law discuss a change in his diet and how much better he felt, my wife and I decided to try it,” Brown says. “We changed our diet, started feeling better, started walking, and then for me — because walking was not a sufficient release for the energy I was feeling — I took up running.”
In the summer of 2012, a friend talked him into running in the Bluegrass 10K … “and my racing days began.” Brown ran his first half marathon (the Iron Horse in Midway) in October that same year. He’s now raced in nine half marathons in Midway, Lexington, Cincinnati and Paris, Ky.
“My longest event—and longest distance I ever ran—was last year’s Brickhouse Betweenathon in Stanford, Ky.,” he says. “It’s a three-quarter marathon (19.65 miles).”
Not only is he registered for two more half marathons and another Brickhouse Betweenathon this fall, Brown has signed up to run his first marathon this May—the second annual Horse Capital Marathon in Lexington.
That’s a lot of miles, but it’s likely that none of them will be as special as the one through Frankfort Cemetery on Oct. 3—John Brown’s own personal “Mile of Remembrance.”