Jack Taylor Brown, businessman, philanthropist, and founder of Jack Brown Cleaners, Inc., son of Paul Brown and Kittie Lou Jelks, was born at Eastland, Texas, on April 1, 1928. In 1935 the family relocated to Austin and opened the San Jacinto Laundry and Dry Cleaning Company. Brown attended public schools in Austin and graduated from Austin High School. He received his degree in civil engineering from the University of Texas at Austin in 1949. While at the University of Texas, Brown was a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) and the Newman Club, a Catholic campus ministry. In his senior year at the University of Texas, he proposed to Elizabeth Ann “Betty” Thompson, a sophomore and member of Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
After Brown graduated from the University of Texas, he worked as a civil engineer for the Texas Highway Department (see TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION) until 1951, when he left to take over his father’s laundry cleaning business. After ten years working with his father, he purchased a One-Hour Martinizing Cleaners and was able to gradually expand the business. During this time, Brown also served one term as president of the Texas Laundry and Dry Cleaning Association (1957), was one-time chairman of the Varsity International Conference of Cleaners, and a member of the International Dry Cleaners Congress. The family-owned and operated business eventually took the name Jack Brown Cleaners in the late 1960s and grew to become one of the largest privately-owned dry cleaning companies in the United States, with a mix of small neighborhood stores and large-scale industrial cleaning centers. At its height in the late 1980s, the company operated as many as seventy locations in Central Texas, including approximately fifty in and around the city of Austin. Brown transferred control of the business to his children in the mid-1990s but remained involved in its operation well into his retirement.
Brown was a noted local philanthropist who contributed a significant amount of time and effort to several Austin social organizations and charities. One lasting contribution to the Austin community was the establishment of the Coats for Kids program in 1986, which provided winter coats, donated at Jack Brown Cleaners locations, to underprivileged children each year at Christmas. In its first thirty years, this program collected, cleaned, and redistributed approximately 850,000 winter coats. In the 1980s Jack Brown Cleaners also instituted a wire hanger recycling program that pledged to donate one penny for every hanger it collected to the city of Austin’s NeighborWoods tree planting project. In 1995 alone, this recycling effort resulted in a $30,000 donation. Brown also served as the past board chairman of the St. David’s HealthCare Partnership and the St. David’s HealthCare System, where he was a board member for thirty-six years. In addition, he served on the board of directors of the Austin Community Foundation, the Austin Higher Education Authority, the Austin Area Research Organization, Holy Cross Hospital, the Salvation Army, Capitol City Savings, Texas Commerce Bank, and Marywood Children and Family Services, a Catholic adoption agency. Brown was also a member of Rotary International and one-time president of Capitol City Kiwanis (1956).
In addition to his business and philanthropic work, Brown was a lifelong devout Catholic. He and his wife, Betty, were founding members of two Catholic churches in Austin, St. Louis King of France and St. Theresa of Lisieux, as well as the St. Monica’s Holy Family Guild. Brown was a fourth-degree member and one-time grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 1017 and served on the board of the Adoration Convent of Divine Love as well as the planning committee of the Diocese of Austin. In recognition of his work with the Catholic Church, Brown was made a knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (1974) and of the Order of Malta (1979).
Over the course of his career, Brown and his company were the recipients of numerous state and local awards for their philanthropic and environmental initiatives. In 1992 the Coats for Kids program received a formal commendation from the Texas House of Representatives. That same year, Brown received a Community Builder Award from the Grand Masonic Lodge of Texas. Additionally, the recycling program of Jack Brown Cleaners was honored on numerous occasions by the Texas Urban Forestry Association (1991), ReLEaf Austin, Inc. (1993), and the board of directors of Keep Texas Beautiful, which gave special recognition to the company in 1996 when it awarded Austin a Governor’s Community Achievement Award for its urban landscaping and neighborhood beautification efforts.
Brown was married to his wife, Betty Ann, for sixty-seven years until her passing in 2016. They had eight children, seven of whom remained in the family business. Jack Brown died in Austin, Texas, on December 15, 2017, and was buried at Austin Memorial Park Cemetery.