Mary Bea' Brown, Henry 'Leo' Brown, and Pastor Dwight Martin during a service honoring World War II veterans at Calvary Baptist Church on Sunday. About three hours after the photo was taken, Leo Brown was killed in a car wreck on Mountain Creek Road. Mary Brown remains in critical condition at Erlanger hospital.
On Sunday morning, 84-year-old Henry "Leo" Brown walked to the front of Calvary Baptist Church and was -- for only the second time of his life -- publicly honored for his service in World War II.
Brown, a U.S. Navy seaman, was one of a handful of veterans recognized during a ceremony at the Red Bank church.
"He shook my hand afterward and had tears in his eyes," said Charles Clemons, another veteran honored at the ceremony. "He was very touched by the gratitude."
But just hours after receiving the accolades, Brown was killed in a head-on crash.
After a lunch at the church, Brown's son helped his father and mother, Mary "Bea" Brown, into their small Toyota sedan. The couple was heading home when 23-year-old Caitlin Davis, driving a Ford F-250 pickup, swerved over the center line on Mountain Creek Road and struck the Browns' car head-on, said Chattanooga police spokeswoman Sgt. Jerri Weary.
Leo Brown died at the hospital shortly after. Bea Brown was listed in critical condition at Erlanger hospital Monday afternoon.
Davis suffered injuries that were not life-threatening, according to Weary, who said investigators still are working the case, and charges may be pending against her.
"It was devastating, terrible news. Just to see him at church that day, and then to know he was gone like that," said Merwynn Mann, who had been at the church that morning.
Brown was a fixture in the Signal Mountain community. For years he ran the family store, Brown Brothers Hardware, at the top of the W Road.
"Everyone on Signal Mountain knew Leo Brown," said 73-year-old Mann, who used to live across the street from the store.
Mann said he went to the store three or four times a week, often just to sit and eat a sandwich at the counter and talk.
"You didn't get but five feet inside the store when here came Leo with a big smile on his face, saying, 'How are you doing?'"
Clemons, 64, used to frequent the store as a kid.
"It was a menagerie of everything you could imagine," he said. "There were hardware supplies, but there were also horseshoes, clothing, saddles, guns -- just everything."
Men clustered around the stove there in the winter, trading stories and jokes, Clemons remembers. They got into long talks while sharpening their knives on the large whetstone in one corner of the store.
During the holidays, Leo Brown would pack boxes of food and leave them at the doors of families he knew wouldn't be able to afford a large Christmas meal. He never left behind a note, Clemons said.
"He was fair, he was honest, he was kind," said Clemons. "You were not just a customer. You were his friend who just happened to be doing business with him."
The store closed its doors years ago, but the Browns still lived on the mountain. Dwight Martin, pastor at Calvary, said the couple had been visiting the church -- where their son is a longtime member -- for several months.
"It was such a shock when we got the news and, of course, it's very difficult for the family," Martin said Monday. "The neat thing is that he was honored yesterday. For the family, that is a really encouraging thing."
Contact staff writer Kate Harrison at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.