IF YOU WALKin a straight line across Pukekura Park from the O’Dowda house, you’ll find yourself at the end of a cul-de-sac, where Ross Brown lived a happy life with Viv, his wife of 43 years.
Brown died in the grip of Alzheimer’s two years ago, aged 79.
“The last few years were hard,” Viv Brown says. “I had to put him in a home. I couldn’t manage him.”
She first noticed something wrong about nine years prior to his death when all of a sudden Brown, an avid punter, stopped going to the TAB. A whizz with numbers, Brown was having trouble with the simple calculations required to place a bet.
In his resthome, he had occasional fits of violence.
“He would hit the staff, Viv says. “He didn’t know what he was doing.”
Brown lost the ability to speak – a confused and incoherent end to a life of class and dignity.
Brown was the son of All Black and timber scion Handley Brown. The family name is steeped in Taranaki history. The family patriarch, Henry, who emigrated from Lincolnshire in 1859, fought in the Land Wars, established the sawmill that carried the family name for more than a century, and was the MP for Taranaki. Father Handley played 20 matches for the All Blacks, and Ross’ brother, Don, played for Taranaki and King Country.
“Pascoe”, as Brown was known to mates and strangers alike, started his representative career as a running first-five who was sometimes criticised for an unrefined kicking game. He ended it as the master of the drop kick and a prodigious punter, oft-criticised for not running or passing enough.
Neil Wolfe, who was often forced out to centre so Taranaki could play both he and Brown in the same side, delivered his eulogy.
“The shame of it,” Wolfe said at one point, “was that few people now know just how great a player he was.”
He was also a player, like Wolfe, like O’Dowda, and like far too many others of the era, who played with serious concussion.
“He was knocked out playing for Taranaki against Waikato in the 50s,” Viv Brown says. “He ended up in hospital for a while.
“He was knocked out a few times, they all were. I don’t think they stayed off the field for long.”