When Tim Reinbott walked into his 1985 soil fertility course at MU, he was immediately intimidated by his professor, James "Jim" Brown.

"He scared me, quite honestly," Reinbott recalled. 

As those first-day jitters faded, Reinbott said, he quickly learned how much Brown valued his students' education.

"He really inspired us to not just accept what was on surface, but really dig into it, and learn and figure things out yourself," Reinbott said.

At the end of the semester, he and his classmates presented Brown with a gold-plated letter "Y" — in honor of the professor's favorite question to ask his students.

Randall Miles, a colleague in the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources, recalled a confused Brown coming into his office asking why the students would present him this award. Miles explained they appreciated how he pushed them to always understand the root of any problem. 

"He looked at me with this boyish grin and said, 'Well, I guess mission accomplished,'" Miles said.

Brown died June 10 at age 87. A memorial service was held in Epple Chapel at Lenoir Woods on June 16.

Brown began teaching at MU in 1963 and was the director of Sanborn Field from 1984 until his retirement in 1998. Sanborn Field is the oldest continuous experimental field west of the Mississippi River and the third oldest in the world, according the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources website

Reinbott and Miles, who both went on to be directors at Sanborn, said Brown's careful organization of historical samples has remained crucial to the work of the field today.

Miles, who directly succeeded Brown, said the former director allowed Sanborn to transform from a research facility focusing mainly on soil health to one that aided the work of environmentalists.

Miles said Brown understood "the value of the past while also trying to clear the pathway for the future."

Reinbott, Sanborn's current director, said the plans outlined by Brown during the centennial celebration in 1988 are still being used.

"Whatever we're doing now is based on what he proposed 31 years ago," Reinbott said. 

Brown is survived by his wife, Erma Jean Brown; four daughters, Darcie Manning, Lisa Brown, Sandy Murray (Jeff) and Diana Recker (Don); seven grandchildren and other family members.

Despite Brown's sometimes gruff first impression, Miles said he was really a "teddy bear."

"Once he realized people appreciated him, or they needed help," Miles said, "he would just go out of his way to give a student another opportunity." 

  • Reporter for the Columbia Missourian. I am a senior studying investigative journalism and political science. Reach me at mmhtgb@mail.missouri.edu, or in the newsroom at 882-5720. See more of my work at mollyhart.org

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