In Memory of Al Brown

Al Brown singing "What A Wonderful World"

Al Brown, our Head Chef since 1987, passed away on Christmas Eve. Mindy, Jessica, Jackie and I were having dinner with family friends at a restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, while on vacation when an email from a TLC alum brought me the news. I guess that it was only appropriate that I found out while eating a great dinner. Al had given us many of those.

Al had been the Head Chef at Camp Oxford/Guilford in Upstate New York until it closed. We needed a chef and my good friend, Barry Kingsley, who owned and directed Oxford/Guilford, called to introduce me to Al. Originally from the Chicago area, Al had worked as a young man cooking aboard the Ferdinand Magellan, the train that carried then President Harry Truman on his famous whistle stop campaign across the country. He spent the bulk of his professional life as a chef aboard the country’s great railroad cars and learned from the best of chefs in that end of the profession before he settled down in Jacksonville, Florida where he spent his winters. For more than forty years, his summers were at camp – the last 23 of them at Timber Lake.

He was a camp character – and he was my friend. Every summer, sometime during pre-camp, Al would arrive, begin barking orders, and take over “his” kitchen. I would always joke with him that it didn’t feel like “camp” until he arrived. “Where are my granddaughters?” he’d growl at me, referring to Jessica and Jackie.

His language was colorful, to say the least. He was the only person in camp who could spout a four-letter word in front of me without retribution. This summer we laughed about the time, back in 1996 when I came to him to tell him that after his many years of complaining about our sub-standard kitchen he had to work in that I was finally going to build him a brand new one. “Al, I’m spending a million dollars next year to build you a brand new, state-of-the-art kitchen – I hope you’re happy” I said to him. Deadpan, he replied “XXXX that! Give me $500,000 and save yourself some money!”

His Sloppy Joes were my favorite lunch and still are (he made sure we had the recipe a few years back when his health first started to get precarious). And, even though he hasn’t done much actual cooking over the past two years, his presence in the Kitchen brought it to life. Our International Staff grew to love him (after they figured out what he was saying in that heavy Southern accent of his peppered with profanity). Many of them visited and stayed with him at his home in Jacksonville before returning to their own homes after camp.

But it wasn’t just the Kitchen staff that he’d entertain. He was a regular on the TLC Play House stage with his Louis Armstrong-like rendition of “It’s A Beautiful World” and his playful personality with our campers. He gave us his last rendition this past summer to a standing ovation.

When we said goodbye this summer as I left camp after post-season (Al always left after me) he told me that this would have to be his last summer as he thought it was jut going to be too much for him to return given his health. But when I last spoke with Al, just a few weeks before he died, he told me that he had changed his mind. Sick or not, he couldn’t think of just being in Jacksonville for the summer – he had to return to his summer home. We decided that he’d teach special classes in cooking when he felt up to it. But it was not to be.

Al Brown, who cooked for a President and thousands of campers was more than a great chef. He was an institution, a fixture, a character and a true camp personality. His cooking will be replaced – but Al Brown will never be. We’ll miss him and always remember a good and loyal friend.

– Jay S. Jacobs

3 comments

  • Al was a wonderful person. I will always remember his singing to me ” Maggie! I’ll always think about you Maggie, after all the things we’ve done, Maggie you’re the only one, oh Maggie! I love you” he was teaching us how to be the best cook, always gave us good advice. I remember on my first summer at TLC someone told me-this will be the best boss you’ll ever had. And it was a true. Love you Mr Brown

  • I worked with Al Brown at Camps Oxford-Guilford for many years. He worked the girls kitchen and I worked the boys kitchen. The memories are some of the best I have in my entire life.
    The highlight of my last year at Camp Oxford Guilford is when Sid Fiedler asked me if I would sing during one of the camps farewell gatherings. Both Camps boys and girls were together. The song Ebony and Ivory was chosen and Al and I sang it. To my amazement, the entire camp got up, started singing with us and there was a river of tears flowing. That was my final and one of my finest memories of working at Camps Oxford Guilford. If anyone from Camp ever sees this comment, please be sure to contact me. My special Thanks to Art Goodman, who as head counselor of Camps Oxford, got me my first ever job there when I was in the 9th grade. My entire life has been built around the skills and work ethic I learned during that time.
    Thank you to all who touch my life during that wonderful time and I wish that Al Brown is resting in peace.
    Joe Russo

  • I was a seventeen year old kitchen worker from England at Camp Oxford Guilford in 1984. I just loved working with Al that Summer and will always remember his fantastic steak, served rare with a great bbq marinade. There were five of us from England in the kitchen that summer and we have such a great laugh… great times!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *