Remembering Glenn Brown
His legacy includes a more vibrant, competitive city and the modern university he helped shape.
When he arrived on Case Quad in the summer of 1986, Glenn Robbins Brown Jr., MS ’54, PhD ’56, already had uncommon experience building teams and inspiring innovation across a large organization. He had risen to the top of the science and engineering ranks at Standard Oil of Ohio (SOHIO), and was an influential voice in non-profit and business groups across the region. The tall, affable engineer now took on a new challenge—helping shape the future of a world-class research university.
As Dean of the Colleges at Case Western Reserve University, Brown was the first dean of the combined faculties of Case Institute of Technology and Western Reserve College. He was hired to accelerate a process that had begun with federation 20 years before, bringing empathy, imagination and business acumen to the quest, observers say.
Brown died May 16, 2021, at the age of 90, leaving the modern university as part of his legacy.
“Glenn was able to encourage people to explore challenges and look at opportunities—he was good at that,” said university historian and former administrator Richard “Dick” Baznik. “He was able to help the institution go through changes which have lasted, and which have brought benefits to the university.”
Tom Kicher ’59, MS ‘62 , PhD ’65, the former Dean of the Case School of Engineering, remembers “a charming guy” who saw his role at Case as a crowning achievement in an illustrious career.
“He was good at the global level. He had that vision,” Kicher said.
Born in Greensburg, Pennsylvania, near Pittsburgh, Brown grew up in a home with six boys and no indoor plumbing, according to the obituary written by his family. He was class president in high school, where he excelled at baseball and basketball, and he went on to Penn State for a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering.
Shortly after graduation, Brown joined the research division of the Standard Oil Company, where his experiences included operations research, managing fuel cell programs, running the coal and uranium businesses and promoting chemicals, biotechnology and emerging materials.
While working full time, Brown earned master’s and doctoral degrees in chemical engineering at Case. He rose to become Senior Vice President, Technology and Planning at SOHIO and a member of the company’s Board of Directors.
Brown left Standard Oil in 1986, as British Petroleum Ltd. of London assumed full control of a company founded in Cleveland by John D. Rockefeller in 1870. Brown played no part as BP moved the American headquarters and more than 1,000 corporate jobs out of the city.
He had already established a relationship with the university, advising deans and top administrators, said Baznik, who served as special assistant to university President Louis Toepfer in the 1970s. In 1986, the university gave Brown a full time role.
“I think the university saw the opportunity to take advantage of his presence,” Baznik said. “He was obviously a leader in the community. He was a very distinctive figure. And he was a big fan of the university.”
Brown started at CWRU as Director of Strategic Planning but soon was named Dean of the Colleges. He was asked to break down barriers between the schools and to begin the long process of reorganizing the faculty, Baznik said.
After two years as dean, Brown transitioned to Vice Provost for Corporate Research and Technology Transfer, where he organized and promoted research and helped to connect the university to local and national investors.
In 1987, he married long-time friend and former co-worker Jeanette Grasselli Brown, MS ’58. She worked for 38 years in industrial research at Standard Oil and BP before retiring in 1989 as BP America’s director of corporate research.
The couple became catalysts in Cleveland’s non-profit world, supporting arts and music and promoting science and engineering in schools and in the halls of government. In 1996, Brown became Science and Technology Advisor to Ohio Governor George Voinovich, guiding the state’s transition to the new economy. He kept the role under Governor Bob Taft, helping lay the foundation for the Third Frontier Program.
In 2012, the husband-wife team was honored with the Peter Burg Regional Vision Award by Team NEO, the highest honor bestowed by the regional economic development agency. As chairman and later a life member of the Playhouse Square Foundation, Brown helped save and restore the historic downtown theaters.
He is survived by his wife Jenny as well as by a daughter, Robyn Boebinger, and a son, Eric, from his previous marriage to Joanne Barnett, who passed away in 1972. He is also survived by three grandchildren and two of his brothers, Dale and Gary.
The family asks that memorial contributions be made to the Playhouse Square Foundation or to one’s favorite charity.