The Fightin’-ist Fightin’ Farmer I Know

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Just over two weeks ago, LHS lost a great alum and friend in Clint Brown. I’d known him since we were kids and thoroughly enjoyed rekindling our friendship thanks to Facebook. There are three things about Clint that I remember most and while they make up more of a Venn diagram than a set memories pointing to mutually exclusive characteristics, they’re my favorite memories of a truly outstanding individual.

My first memories of Clint are from our childhood and from high school and the two specific memories I have speak to one of my favorite things about Clint—he marched to the beat of his own drummer and lived life on his terms and no one else’s. I remember Clint’s “highwater” jeans. I remember them because I could see his white tube socks so clearly below the cuffs of those jeans. So many kids wore them, probably because at that age, our young parents couldn’t afford to keep up with their kids’ growth spurts. Since they were so common, especially among boys, I have no idea why I remember that about Clint so I have to think that I remember it because Clint didn’t seem to be bothered at all by it. If he was like many of us whose parents couldn’t afford many (if any) pairs of designer jeans or to buy new clothes with every growth spurt, he was probably subjected to some mocking from other kids whose parents could afford or would buy those things. But if he was, you wouldn’t know it. And if it bothered him, you wouldn’t know that, either. He always had a confidence about him that was great. In his highwater jeans with white tube socks gleaming, Clint ran, jumped, and played with vigor and delight. In my mind, that speaks to Clint’s willingness to be his own person from a very young age–he was undoubtedly way more mature and grounded than most of us and that showed throughout our schooling.

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My second childhood memory of Clint is from our senior year in high school. Thankfully, our senior class bucked Lewisville High School tradition and didn’t pick a traditional classic rock song like Boston’s “Don’t Look Back” as our senior song. Our senior class chose “Don’t You Forget About Me”, the theme song to the popular John Hughes Movie, The Breakfast Club. I was thrilled. Clint wasn’t. When I heard that Clint was passing around a petition to remove “Don’t You Forget About Me” as our class song, I was told it was because he didn’t approve of the drug references in the film. A classmate recently told me that he doesn’t think that Clint started the petition for that reason, but that he did so because he thought “the song sucked”. I’m not sure which story is true (though given his libertarian tendencies I have a hard tome believing that he’d try to undo something like a senior song just because our choice wasn’t his choice) and I guess that ultimately it doesn’t matter because for whatever reason, Clint didn’t want that song as our senior song and he took a public stand against it, willing to endure whatever crap he got from classmates that disagreed. How many of us can say that in high school we took a public stand on much of anything, much less a stand that we knew would probably be unpopular with our classmates? Thus, from a very young age, Clint exhibited a confidence in his own beliefs and values that I think few others exhibited so young.

The second thing I remember most about Clint came from our relationship as adults—Clint was everything a good citizen should be. Like many others who graduated from high school with somewhere between 800-900 kids, through Facebook I’ve been able to rekindle friendships with folks I grew up with, become good friends with folks who were only acquaintances in high school, and link to people I honestly didn’t even know in high school because, well, I graduated with almost 1000 people. As we moved toward our 30th high school reunion and Barak Obama was elected, people I grew up with began posting their political views on Facebook more often and with more vitriol. As someone who majored in political science and has been involved in political activism since my undergraduate days, I was certainly one of those people who posted my political leanings on Facebook and did so passionately (still do). And as a progressive growing up in Texas I wasn’t surprised at the conservative leanings of many people I grew up with. As someone who has taught public speaking for 22 years and who not only listens to, but helps students prepare, arguments I completely disagree with, the anger that people had when someone disagreed with their public posts and engaged in debate was shocking. I was “de-friended” by folks I’d known since elementary school because I would challenge their posts and engage in debates with them. In the end, being “de-friending” by those who want only to listen to those who already agreed with them is fine because it helps me maintain my average blood pressure level. But with Clint, no matter how strongly we disagreed on a topic, I could always count on him to give me his reasonable, ideologically consistent opinion on the debates he often watched (and sometimes participated in) on and off Facebook because Clint understood what some folks I graduated with couldn’t–that you can disagree with someone, even passionately, and still be friends, and that enlightenment and intellectual evolution depends on being open to a variety of ideas and arguments.

If we have to use labels, Clint leaned libertarian and I lean progressive, thus he and I disagreed on a number of political issues. But unlike so many others, Clint was able to rationally debate policy decisions without name-calling, emotive language, or ideological inconsistency. Being a communication professor grounded in rhetorical studies, I adore debates. I’m happy to engage pretty much anyone in a debate if we’re going to debate without reliance on logical fallacies and if we’re going to do so with assertiveness rather than aggression. Clint was a master at these sorts of debates and we had plenty of them, on and off our public Facebook pages. I always wanted to know what Clint thought about events. He helped me see things in ways I hadn’t thought of before and though it was most often still the case that we ended up still disagreeing in the end, I could always appreciate understanding Clint’s positions and I knew that he understood mine, too. Though we disagreed on much, we agreed on a good bit, too. We both saw the logical inconsistency of many political positions expressed online and other places, cringed at the logical fallacies, and abhorred the abuses of power/trampling of the Bill of Rights we both saw coming from both the Bush and Obama administrations. And those commonalities are things we discovered because we both understood that debate is good for our country and that through debate and with open minds we can learn and grow together–we found those commonalities because neither of us saw disagreement and friendship as mutually exclusive elements of life. All of these things made Clint the best of what a citizen should be–open-minded, engaged, and passionate about issues affecting his country and its citizens.

Ultimately, I think that Clint and I saw the world and what we wanted the world to be in very similar ways. We just had different ideas about how to get there. I can understand that about my and Clint’s world views because Clint, like me, was someone who raged against systemic problems and abuses, not specific political parties or presidential administrations. In other words, our political positions had some ideological consistency (even if our preferred ideologies differed) in that we were more interested in tackling the system rather than specific individuals or parties. We abhorred political corruption and abuse of power from any political party or institution. And as I look back I realize that in that way we shared more political commonalities than differences–an incredibly happy discovery. I will always miss Clint’s posts and comments on those posts, whether I agreed with his views or not. Not a day goes by that I don’t see a story and think, “What would Clint say?”. He regularly sent me links to stories about education, music linked to my love of 80s new wave, or political issues we both cared about. I’m going to miss those messages from Clint, those posts on his Facebook wall, and our wonderful debates. And because we both had similar views about the way we’d like to see the world evolve, I think that’s we worked so well together on a project that meant a lot to us both–Farmers Paying It Forward.

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Thus finally, I will always remember the relationship we cultivated through our work with Farmers Paying It Forward and his commitment to that project. Based on a program my parents set up through their business and at the suggestion of my mom, in 2011 I started a charity designed to raise money for laptops that we’d give to deserving high school seniors from our alma mater, Lewisville High School. That first year I started working on donations Clint was one of four or five fellow alums that jumped on board immediately to help by donating money and spreading the word. That first year, I believe we gave away two refurbished laptops. The next year we gave away three new laptops and one refurbished model. And this year, we gave away TWELVE new laptops to deserving kids getting ready to graduate from high school and leave for some form of post-high school education!

In our second year, the donation drive started right as Clint made his cancer diagnosis public on Facebook. I, of course, didn’t expect Clint to participate because he had much bigger issues to contend with during this time, but once again he and Stacey donated generously to the project and he helped me promote the drive just as he’d done the year before. Over the summer we agreed to get together and brainstorm about ways to make the charity bigger and better and I was thrilled to drive to Maryland and meet his wonderful wife, Stacey, and their three adorable daughters. He struggled at the end of the day because our day in town had tired him out a bit, but we enjoyed seeing the shops and laughing at his obvious political disdain for a Lenin-esque named soda he showed me at a soda store. Once we finished shopping, we went back to their home where I got to meet his three precious girls and we strategized ways to grow what had really become our charity (along with a few other regular die-hard participants/donors). It was a great day and as we made plans to see each other again in September for a street fair in Frederick, I wondered if that would actually happen, worried that he’d be taken from us before we could meet again, but I was hopeful that we would.

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This year, as the cancer had spread to his lungs and brain, Clint messaged me towards the end of our donation campaign promising that he would get his donation in once he could look at his computer screen without getting dizzy. Yes, in all of the madness, fear, anxiety, illness, frustration and the gajillion other feelings that Clint had to be feeling what turned out to be only weeks before his death, Clint made sure that he got his donation in to help others. I was thrilled that he got to see the end result of our first major campaign with Farmers Paying It Forward and that he got to see the pictures of twelve deserving students getting a little help from LHS alums that cared about them without even knowing them. When the students of LHS made a video wishing Clint better health, I cried as I sent the video to him. After he watched it he truly couldn’t believe that he was owed such gratitude, but he somewhat reluctantly let me post the video anyway if “I really believed that he deserved that”. Yeah, I believed that he really deserved that. When he learned that it wasn’t me that put it together, but rather the students that did so, he was stunned and touched even more. You can see their video to Clint here. I don’t think there was an egotistical bone in Clint’s body and I will always remember that about him, as well as his devotion to Farmers Paying It Forward and his willingness to put others first even at what was certainly the worst few months of his too-short life. This charity and those LHS alums that are such a huge part of it, all come from different political perspectives, backgrounds, and beliefs. I think it’s a wonderful legacy left to us by Clint that speaks to all of the characteristics I’ve talked about above. Helping others together can be above political leanings and dogma. It can be something that we do together in spite of our differences for the greater good. I’m so proud to be a part of this legacy Clint helped create.Image

What more can I possibly say about a person that is better than simply explaining all of the wonderful things I’ll remember most about him and all of the generous things that he did for kids he’d never even met? I could work on this post for days and it’ll never be right and I’ll never think it’s good enough because there’s not enough I can do or say to communicate how much I appreciated and admired Clint. Brevity in writing has never been a strong suit of mine, so I apologize for the length of this post, but will add two more things to this post anyway, in spite of the fact that it’s already too long.

In the spirit of Clint’s generosity to kids he didn’t even know, I ask for your generosity for kids you may not know, either. Along with this wife, Stacey, Clint left three wonderful little girls in this world—Kayleigh, Hayden, and Taylor. Two different funds have been set up to help pay for expenses for the girls. You can donate here or by sending your donation to: Frederick Campaign for Liberty, c/o Jason Laird, 202 Baughmans Lane, Frederick, MD 21702.

Finally, Stacey has kindly suggested that one place donations in Clint’s name could go is our Farmers Paying It Forward charity (which he named, by the way). If you’re so inclined, you can donate in Clint’s memory here. We will work this year to set up a memorial computer gift with (hopefully) some additional funding for the student in Clint’s name that we can continue to offer each year to a student that reminds us of Clint’s dedication to good citizenship and generosity. As I meet with a friend tonight who is going to help us move Farmers Paying It Forward to an official non-profit organization, I’ll be thinking of Clint and what this step would mean to him. It certainly wouldn’t be possible without his dedication to our little charity that just keeps growing.

Clint, thanks for your friendship, your courage, your political acumen, and your generosity. I will always pay it forward in your name.

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