Marion Griggs Sanderson Brown

1908 - 2004 

Marion Sanderson Brown, a physician, was also a contralto soloist and choir conductor, deeply involved with music throughout her life. A commanding person, she made significant contributions in both medicine and music and inspired all who knew her with her charming personality, competence, and dedication.

Marion was born in Berkeley, California, on August 1, 1908, one of two daughters born to Arthur J. and Emma Dell Griggs Sanderson. She also had an older half-sister whose mother had died in childbirth. She spent her childhood and school years in Berkeley, where her father, who was a physician, owned a sanitarium (where Ellen White stayed when in the area) and in Angwin, where her mother had purchased a house so that Marion could attend Pacific Union College and its related schools.

Music was an important activity in the home. Her mother, whose brother, Frederick Griggs, was a well-known Seventh-day Adventist educator and college president, often sang at church events in Northern California. Marion started piano lessons at an early age and while still in academy began singing in the Pacific Union College choirs, including the famed A Cappella choir conducted by George W. Greer.

Following graduation in 1929 as salutatorian of her class with a major in physics, she married Delmer Jencks Brown, who was valedictorian. A year after they married, she resumed study in music and completed a music major at PUC, while her husband taught chemistry at the college. She would continue to sing in the choir under Greer and be a frequent soloist during the six years they lived there.

During that time they would have two daughters, Catherine Jeannette and Bonne Jo, in 1933 and 1935, who were given opportunities in music because of their parents' shared interests in that area. Delmer was a pianist whose sister, Frances, was a gifted musician who would teach at La Sierra College, now University, and at Helderberg College in South Africa. Catherine later pursued a career in music and law, and Bonne became an audiologist.

They moved to Loma Linda in 1935, and Delmer enrolled in the medical school at the College of Medical Evangelists, now Loma Linda University. Marion enrolled in medical school two years later and both graduated with M.D. degrees in 1940 and 1942, respectively. While there, she organized a male chorus composed of medical students and others from the community.

From 1942 to 1947, she practiced medicine in Takoma Park, Maryland, while Delmer served as a major in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, stationed at Walter Reed General Hospital. Both sought a mission appointment after World War II ended but instead accepted a call to Parkersburg, West Virginia, which at that time was a needy area for Seventh-day Adventists.

In addition to practicing medicine, Marion served as church choir director and established a women's choral group that traveled throughout the Ohio River Valley giving concerts in churches and auditoriums and singing on the local radio station. She also served without remuneration as education secretary for the local conference and as chair of the first Lay Advisory Council, which raised money to advance the work in that region.

She strengthened the church and its local church school by leading out in the construction of a new school building and hiring more teachers. Because of her leadership in that church, she was ordained as the first woman local church elder in the Columbia Union. She was chosen to serve as a member of the General Conference Executive Committee and was a delegate to the General Conference Session in Vienna in 1975.

In 1949 the Browns accepted a call to Orlando, Florida, by the Florida Conference president to help staff the Florida Sanitarium, now Florida Hospital, Orlando, with board certified specialists so that it could become accredited. He was a cardiologist and she a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology.

Marion directed the sanitarium church choir whose members included nurses, physicians, and others from the area, using eight-part choral arrangements she had sung while in the PUC choir under Greer. The pastor, a choir member himself, frequently observed that the group's angelic sound inspired his preaching.

The Browns returned to Parkersburg three years later, where she continued to conduct choirs, especially for camp meeting sessions and other Adventist gatherings. She recruited soloists from throughout the Columbia Union Conference and staged significant productions featuring favorite hymns and songs such as "List the Cherubic Host," "What, Never Part Again?," and "Sometimes I Hear Strange Music Like None E'er Heard Before." Marion was also still active as a practicing physician, teaching a Sabbath School class each week, and leading Bible study groups in the church.

Following the death of her husband, Delmer, in 1973, she moved to Loma Linda, where she earned a master's degree in public health. She was then invited to be Medical Director of the Columbia Union and moved to Silver Spring, Maryland. One of her primary assignments involved flying to foreign medical schools to recruit Adventist physicians to work in under-served counties of the Columbia Union and help them obtain their licenses to practice in the U.S.

Marion briefly returned to West Virginia to practice medicine and then retired in 1984 and moved to Loma Linda. Even in retirement she pursued her interest in music by organizing a choir of 24 retirees called the Sunrise Singers. They rehearsed weekly and sang regularly in smaller churches and retirement homes for church and vesper services. As she had through the years, she used several of Greer's eight-part arrangements, along with newer songs.

In 1994, Marion was voted one of Pacific Union College's Honored Alumni. She was residing in Glendale when she died on June 15, 2004, at age 94.


Source: Information provided by her daughter, Catherine Brown Lang Titus, June 2011.