Angela Guissi Brown dedicated her life to making Tuolumne County a better place.
The Sonora native did so through the decades she spent teaching special education students, her volunteerism in a number of different service clubs, spearheading community projects, serving on elected boards, and preserving the area’s rich history.
“She was born with that personality. She wanted to be active in everything,” said her younger sister, Linda Crocker.
Brown died at her home in Sonora on Wednesday after battling cancer. She was 71.
Family and friends described Brown as someone who cared deeply about the community where her family has roots that date back to the late 19th century.
In the latter part of her life, Brown spent countless hours documenting the history of the county and its pioneer families as the president of the Tuolumne County Historical Society’s Board of Directors since 2015.
“Nobody screamed history and heritage like Angela Brown,” said Billie Lyons, curator of the Tuolumne County Museum. “This was her passion and pleasure.”
Brown’s grandmother on her father’s side, Eugenia Guissi, came to Sonora in 1890 from Scuzo, Italy, near Genoa.
The family still owns the building at 31 S. Washington St. where her grandparents lived.
Her parents, Karmel and Bucky Guissi, ran the King of Clubs bar and restaurant on the bottom floor of the buildings, which is where she met her husband of 49 years, Dan Brown, while stopping by to visit her father.
Dan Brown was from Modesto and working for the U.S. Forest Service at the time they met, while Angela had recently graduated from Sonora High School in 1966.
She attended high school with County Supervisor John Gray, whom she would lovingly refer to as by his boyhood name of “Johnny” when addressing the Board of Supervisors at public meetings.
Angela Brown later earned a bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and development from the California State University, San Jose. She contemplated joining the Peace Corps while in college, which family members believe helped inspire her lifelong volunteerism.
The couple married in 1970 and had a son, Steven. They moved back to Sonora from San Jose after getting married and before the birth of their youngest son, Timmy.
“She raised my brother and I to be very independent,” said Timmy Brown, of Sacramento, who’s now married and has two children of his own. “We had great childhoods growing up in Sonora because she let us go and explore the town and do things.”
While raising a family, Angela Brown also worked as a substitute and in-home teacher.
She also started a successful catering business in the 1980s that she ran for many years, which grew out of learning how to decorate cakes for her children.
“She did that for her own boys, well, pretty soon she’s selling them to people,” Crocker said. “Then it grew into Angela Brown Catering. She did parties in people’s homes, 300 people at the Elks Lodge… She was born that way, I’m telling ya, she was born that way.”
Angela Brown became a special education teacher at Sonora High School in the late 1980s and did that for more than two decades.
Former County Administrator Craig Pedro, who comes from a pioneering local family, said he became friends with Angela Brown because she invited him to speak to her students about government.
“She was hard to say no to, but always in a good way,” Pedro said. “She was one of those people who made many, many contributions in subtle ways behind the scenes.”
Ellen Beck, a former colleague at Sonora High School, described Angela Brown as “one of the nicest, good-hearted people” she’s ever known, and said that she hosted Friday night dinners for the school’s football teams that were cherished by the team members and coaches.
Over the years, Angela Brown was appointed by the governor to serve on the board of directors for the Mother Lode Fairgrounds and served two terms on the Sonora Elementary School Board of Trustees.
She also participated in many voluntary organizations, including the Soroptimist Club, Native Daughters of the Golden West and the Tuolumne County Historical Society, which her sister referred to as her “last baby.”
Angela Brown joined the board of the historical society in 2013 and served as its president from 2015 until she resigned just weeks before her death when the doctors told her there was nothing more they could do.
“I found solace in the history society, too, because I found a lot of things out about my family,” said Angela Brown’s childhood friend, Cookie Boone, who comes from the Mills family that came here in the 1850s. “We had the best time finding things.”
In addition to tracing the county’s roots, Angela Brown also spearheaded several efforts to preserve and restore historical landmarks.
She was able to find a contractor, Doug Lorimer, to refurbish the brick outside of the historical society that’s part of the county’s historic jail, led a fundraising effort to preserve and restore St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Columbia that was built in 1856, and most recently advocated for the preservation of the one-lane bridge over Woods Creek on Rawhide Road that’s over a century old and will become a pedestrian walkway after a new two-lane bridge is constructed.
“I think it was that she loved the history of the community and being a part of that history,” her son, Timmy Brown, said of what drove his mother’s work. “She was always trying to figure out ways that could serve and help do things.”
Angela Brown is survived by her husband, Dan; son Steven and his wife, Josie; son Timmy and his wife, Amy; sister, Linda Crocker and her husband, David Crocker; nephew, Jimmy Crocker and his wife, Ashley; and six grandchildren.
A rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. Thursday at Terzich and Wilson Funeral Home, 225 Rose Street in Sonora, followed by a memorial service at 11 a.m. Friday at the same place. A reception will be held after the service on Friday at Teleli Golf Club, at 17566 Lime Kiln Road in Sonora.
In-lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to the Tuolumne County Historical Society in her honor.
Contact Alex MacLean at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 588-4530.