BANGOR, Maine — Pat Culumovic will never forget the night.
He and his John Bapst basketball teammates were warming up for the last game of the 1983-84 regular season, against Bangor Christian, at the Bangor Auditorium.
Crusaders coach Ron Brown, who was suffering his first bout with kidney failure, was wheeled into the gymnasium.
“He actually checked himself out of the hospital for a couple of hours,” marveled Culumovic, a junior captain on the team.
“The players knew nothing about it,” he said. “Emotionally, we had kind of struggled with his illness. Obviously that was a big emotional lift for us.”
Tuesday, more than 25 years after the onset of the disease, the longtime coach and the author of the Bangor Daily News column “Time Out,” died at the age of 58.
“His suffering’s over,” said Shelly (Hall) Brown, Ron’s wife of nearly 25 years and a driving force behind his ability to overcome the side effects of kidney failure and continue coaching and writing productively.
“Most people didn’t realize how sick he was because he was such a good actor,” she said. “There was a private Ron and a public Ron.”
Brown, a Camden native, was a fixture on the Eastern Maine basketball scene for more than 30 years, from the time he took his first job in Maine as a teacher and coach at Central High School in Corinth in 1976.
He also was the head coach at several other schools, including Penquis High in Milo, Piscataquis High in Guilford, John Bapst High in Bangor, Hampden Academy, Bangor Christian School, Machias High School, Searsport High School (girls) and Narraguagus High of Harrington. He also held the men’s post at Eastern Maine Technical College in Bangor.
Brown, the son of late Bangor entrepreneur Doug Brown, guided the Machias boys to the Eastern Maine Class D championship and a state runner-up finish in 1992.
Brown’s high school teams compiled a combined record of 213-143 (.598), including 11 title-game appearances. From 1984 on, he performed his job while dealing with kidney issues, including a transplant.
“He was an excellent tactician and paid attention to detail,” said Culumovic, who also assisted Brown for one season at Bapst. “I think that’s why we won under him.”
Jamie Russell, the boys basketball coach at Penobscot Valley in Howland, played his senior year under Brown at Penquis and later coached against some of his teams.
“He was a real gentleman,” Russell said. “His kids had to look good, had to have a shirt and tie on. He took to heart that you’re a reflection of your school and a representative of your community.”
Whether in practice or on the sidelines during games, Brown usually maintained his soft-spoken, calm demeanor. Only occasionally did he confront game officials as he preached the importance of decorum, respect and sportsmanship.
“He was part of the education process and believed in it. He was a teacher and a coach,” said Maine Basketball Commissioner Peter Webb.
“He was a guardian of sports overall and of the game of basketball specifically,” he added. “Ron believed in the need to prepare and strive for the best. He didn’t see that positive sportsmanship was an enemy of competition.”
Brown’s tenure Down East was notable, since his deliberate offensive philosophy clashed with the traditional fast-paced style played there.
“I can’t say that I liked the type of ball that he coached, but against us it was effective,” former Jonesport-Beals coach Ordie Alley said with a chuckle.
“You can imagine how dedicated that man was to travel all the way down here to coach basketball,” he added. “He’s certainly a fighter. To do what he did and be as sick as he was was unbelievable.”
Russell said the public’s focus on the offensive scheme employed by Brown-coached teams took attention away from their commitment to defense.
“His teams were very underrated defensively,” Russell said.
Alley recalled the summer he called Brown to inquire about putting a Jonesport-Beals team in the HOOPS Inc. summer league in Bangor. The schedule had already been completed.
“He threw it right in the garbage and remade everything,” Alley said. “He made a point of trying to get us in for the early games if he could because we had so far to travel.”
Brown even coached in the professional ranks, directing the now-defunct Maine Lumberjacks of the Continental Basketball Association during the 1979-80 and 1980-81 seasons.
While he had aspired to coach in the NBA, the CBA experience helped him gain a deeper appreciation for working with high school athletes.
“[In high school], you can build character and teach values,” Brown told the BDN in 1982. “I like watching a sophomore grow into a poised young man.”
Brown also served as an NBA scout, working with the Marty Blake Agency.
“I found him to be a terrific person,” Blake said. “He was a real good basketball mind.”
Renal failure often slowed and eventually completely took away Brown’s ability to handle the physical demands of coaching. Despite undergoing dialysis treatments for four hours three times per week, being confined to a wheelchair for many years and enduring excruciating pain, he stayed involved with basketball.
“He was really in a lot of trouble here this past couple years. A lot of people didn’t know that,” said Bangor’s Jimmy Nelson, who rekindled a friendship with Brown three years ago. “I used to be amazed at, how does this guy keep doing this. He was a very strong person with a lot of faith and a loving family.”
Brown authored numerous books about basketball, including “Basketball 2000: Coaching and Playing Into the 21st Century,” in addition to his BDN columns and online articles for Winning Hoops. HOOPS Inc. also published Maine Roundball Magazine for several years and also offered a Web site.
He wrote “Simply the Best: The Cindy Blodgett Story,” a book that chronicled the rise to prominence of the state’s most heralded female high school basketball player.
Blodgett was initially not interested in having her life chronicled in a book.
“He was very sensitive and that’s what I really appreciated. He handled it in a very respectful way,” said the former Lawrence High and University of Maine star, who now is the Black Bears’ head coach.
“Our relationship kind of grew. It was easy because basketball was a subject that we both had a deep passion for.”
Brown often expressed his gratitude for the chance to write Time Out. His two stints with the weekly offering covered more than 11 years.
Brown provided his expertise for six years as a color commentator for the Maine Public Broadcasting Network’s coverage of the Eastern Maine high school basketball tournaments.
Brown, a member of the Maine Association of Basketball Coaches, sponsored numerous coaching clinics in eastern Maine. The events included appearances by NBA coach Hubie Brown, the late Ray Meyer and Johnny Orr.
Brown in 2006 was selected for the Maine Sports Legends Hall of Honors and in 2002 received the MABC Contributor Award. That group now gives out the Ron Brown Media Award annually in his honor.
Ron and Shelly Brown received the Penobscot Valley Conference basketball coaches’ Outstanding Contributor Award in 2007.
Brown graduated from Bangor High School in 1969 and earned a degree in English from UMaine in 1973. He began his coaching career at the Bangor YMCA in 1969 and took his first paid position in 1974 at Boston Junior High in Richmond, Ind.
Brown, who first experienced kidney failure in 1984, had a successful transplant in 1990. The kidney lasted nine years, then failed. He had been undergoing dialysis treatment, three times per week, ever since.
He was an active supporter of the Kidney Foundation of Maine and several other charitable organizations.
“It’s amazing what a struggle he had and he handled it so well,” Webb said. “I don’t know how he did it.”
Brown often said he had defied the odds for years while surviving renal failure.
“I’ve been lucky, comparatively speaking,” he said upon retiring from coaching in 2004. “It’s kind of sad, but only kind of.”
Coaching and writing helped keep Brown motivated.
“Coaching was his life,” said Shelly Brown, who added Brown coached youngest son Nate, 9, in a kindergarten league a few years ago.
“He hated to give it up, but he had to.”
Brown is also survived by his sons Scott and Todd.