Dorothy “Judy” Brown made taking care of others her life’s work.
On Feb. 20, that life was taken by a gunman in Kalamazoo, Michigan, in what police are calling a series of random murders.
Brown was the coordinator of the South Central Community Action Program in Brown County from 1982 to 1989, said Linda Welty, who has that job because of Brown.
Welty went to work for her as a part-time caseworker in 1988, helping low-income people find resources to cover their basic needs like medical and dental coverage, shelter, food and child care.
When Brown resigned to become the director of the Brown County Chamber of Commerce, she encouraged Welty to step into her shoes.
“I was terrified. I didn’t feel like I had enough experience,” Welty said. “But she was such a sweet, thoughtful mentor. She said, ‘You can do this.’ And I’ve been here ever since,” Welty said. “It broke my heart to hear it,” she said about Brown’s death.
Brown, 74, had been out to dinner with friends at a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kalamazoo. She was in the parking lot, in the back seat of a Chevy Cruze when she was shot at about 10:30 p.m.
Her friends, 60-year-old Mary Jo Nye and 68-year-old Barbara Hawthorne, were also killed, and a 14-year-old girl was critically injured.
Nye’s sister-in-law, 62-year-old Mary Lou Nye, was killed, too; she was in another vehicle in the parking lot, according to the MLive Kalamazoo Gazette.
Jason B. Dalton, 45, of Kalamazoo, has been charged with six counts of murder and two counts of attempted murder. Police said he had no criminal record.
Fifteen minutes before he shot Brown and the others, police say he killed a father and son at a car dealership, and earlier, shot a woman at an apartment complex, who survived.
Dalton was a registered driver for Uber, a ride-sharing service, and police said he was picking up passengers between shootings. He was arrested during a traffic stop about two hours after Brown was shot.
Dalton also has ties to Indiana. He attended Eastern Hancock middle school and high school in the 1980s, but left Hancock County in 1986 prior to his sophomore year.
Brown came to Brown County after she married Curtis Brown, who was a resident since the early ‘70s, said former son-in-law Dan Hartman.
She lived here for 25 years, even after she and Curtis divorced, Hartman said. She was involved in the Rotary Club and was a member of the Governor’s Task Force for Drug Prevention in Youth, according to her obituary.
Brown led the Brown County Chamber of Commerce in the 1990s when it was housed in a tiny building where the Artist Colony Inn is now, Steve Gore said.
“She was a real, real nice lady — the kind of person you’d find working in a visitor center or chamber — very outgoing, nice and sweet,” Gore said.
HobNob Corner restaurant owner Warren Cole remembered her as a customer: “She was a very sweet, kind woman. It was like I knew her. ‘Loved to talk with her, greet her,” Cole said.
After leaving the Chamber, Brown became a caregiver, Gore said.
She moved back to Battle Creek, Michigan, about 15 years ago to be near her brother, he said. Then, she became a caseworker for the Area Agency on Aging.
Friend Marilynn Miles told the Battle Creek Enquirer that Brown had just retired last spring from Guardian Finance and Advocacy Services, helping seniors manage their money and often making home visits.
Her former boss told the newspaper that he had just spoken to Brown last week and she said she was “having a ball” during her retirement.
Hartman said his family continued to keep in contact with Brown. She and one of her two sons, Rob, visited the Hartmans last summer at their second home in Michigan.
“We think she was just a spectacular person. That, of course, magnifies the shock and sadness of the random murder, just totally crazy situation there,” Hartman said.
“Sorry, terribly sorry that she was taken from us.”