Self-effacing Dr. Tony Brown doesn’t subscribe to the commonly-held notion that people enjoy talking about themselves. His discomfort with the topic is evident in body language and words.
“I could talk for hours about my missionary work,” he affirms. “But much less so about myself. I’m a very private person.”
And humble, too. Tony has assembled an impressive resume of humanitarian work which began, as many enduring passions do, in youth.
“My father volunteered with World Vision Canada,” he remembers. “He spent time in the Far East and West Africa, working with street kids, when I was young. He explained it simply: ‘It’s what we do.’
“With medical training comes responsibility. And with my upbringing, medical missionary work was a natural progression. It’s not for everyone, but it’s what I feel.”
There might be a tendency to join those “dots” by assuming that Tony chose a vocation in medicine to pursue that missionary career path. But in truth, his leaning toward the field was entirely unrelated.
“I can’t explain it: I always wanted to be a doctor, even though my father was a lawyer, as were others in my family. And if I’d truly had my way, I would’ve played trombone in Doc Severinsen’s band on Johnny Carson!”
Fate played an influential card when the University of Western Ontario med student was posted as an intern at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. A chance meeting would not only change his social life, but ultimately provide the link which would guide Tony and his family to Port Perry.
“Mike Gilmour and I were both interns at Sunnybrook,” he says. “We met in the hospital elevator during our first week, and we’ve been friends ever since.”
The pair would eventually form a fitness partnership which, in 2010, saw them together complete the prestigious Boston Marathon.
“Mike and I were both looking for a small-town atmosphere after we graduated. He recommended Port Perry as a great community to start a practice and raise a family. I told (my wife) Susan ‘let’s give it six months,’ and here it is twenty years later!”
Mike arrived first in Scugog because Tony had opted for a more circuitous route.
“I’d arranged a medical missionary trip to Kenya when I graduated. Then worked six months in Australia. Susan’s a speech pathologist, she’d arranged a job-exchange, so I applied to the local hospital.”
Tony’s missionary work ended, when his family with Susan began. But when the couple’s three daughters - Zanna (17), Lizzie (14), and Laura (12) - got older, Tony again, in his words, was “bitten by the bug.” His re-introduction, ironically, was entirely unrelated to medicine.
Dr. Tony Brown working with children
in Central America.
“Our church group built a church in Honduras, which inspired me to organize medical missions to Central America. Our community is my first love, but my heart goes out to the developing world.”
Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador: Tony Brown has visited them all, and encouraged his local colleagues to join. Their task, he says, was medically basic.
“We provide ‘primary care,’ meaning the level of service you’d expect from your family physician or at a walk-in clinic.”
Tony was awarded the YMCA Peace Medallion in 2008 for his selfless work with the people in third world countries. The medal is awarded each year to volunteers working to find peaceful solutions to violence, conflict, discrimination and injustice, enhancing the lives of people in their community by creating a more peaceful environment.
Tony’s most recent mission, however, was anything but routine. “I’d been in Haiti planning a future mission before the earthquake (January 12, 2010). When the disaster struck, on-site agencies were decimated, so those medical contacts I’d made pleaded for help. Instead of months of planning, our team assembled and left immediately.
I admit, I was scared at first - I’m no expert in disaster relief, and had no idea what we’d find.” His previous experience in the Port-au-Prince region provided Tony with a unique perspective on the scene when the team of 11 paramedics and three doctors arrived.
“Complete misery and indescribable suffering which I’ll never forget,” he summarizes. “There was fear, even in children’s eyes… fear, sounds of pain and agony, and the smell of death.” He also witnessed the remarkable rebirth of hope.
“Only a few days later, in the middle of all that horror, I saw children playing soccer and heard people singing. It’s incredible, the human spirit.
“Difficult as it was to witness such suffering, it’s also very rewarding. And I’m fortunate to have my family’s full support.”
Susan, as well as the three girls, have participated in Tony’s missionary work.
“Christian teaching tells us to help others in need,” he says. “First-hand experience in the developing world was good for the kids, and they also see the passion Susan and I have for the work.”
Church involvement is an important element in the Brown household. Its activities number among those which the family shares.
“Both Susan’s and my family have cottages, so we enjoy those times, together with our extended family. We all like skiing in the winter. And Lizzie, Laura, and Susan are competitive horseback riders.”
Tony’s own competitive spirit often pits him against his most determined rival: himself. “I love challenges,” he admits readily. “A lot of my leisure-time choices reflect that. Golf I find very relaxing, and get out as often as I can in season. And running, that’s another ‘challenge against yourself,’ every time out.”
Tony describes his April entry in the Boston Marathon as his peak running experience. “It was a thrill, just to qualify,” he adds. “It was a tough run, but I was pleased with what I did.”
While Boston may represent the summit, Tony insists it won’t be his last. “My marathon days aren’t over!” he smiles. “I’ll be running as long as my body will allow.”
Personal challenge and a peaceful pursuit – two elements Tony cherishes in all his hobbies – converge in another seasonal activity which he and Susan both enjoy.
“She got me interested in bird-watching, so between April and June, I rearrange my office hours to accommodate it. I love learning about the different species and their behaviour, recognizing their calls. I feel the wonder of God’s creation.”
Tony’s varied activities offer peace and tranquility, a welcome break from his busy professional life. In addition to his thriving family practice, Tony is among Scugog’s coroners, and one of Port Perry Hospital’s anesthetists. He finds satisfaction in all three roles.
“Getting to know my patients has been the most enjoyable part of my family practice. I’m starting now to see multiple generations, which is also a thrill. There’s an art, and also a challenge, to both the anesthetist’s and coroner’s jobs which I enjoy.”
He smiles, before adding: “But I need forty hours in every day!”
His jest lies only inches from the reality. Balancing three demanding medical portfolios, missionary work, and his personal involvement with family and church, Dr. Tony Brown may number among Port Perry’s busiest and most in-demand physicians.
The easy smile which accompanies the comment shows how his initial discomfort, speaking about himself, has diminished. Only his humility remains, and that makes his personal story all the more worth telling.
By Scott Mercer
Focus on Scugog