The West Coast grocery industry is mourning the loss of Mr. Jack H. Brown, the longtime leader of Stater Bros. Markets in Southern California. As The Shelby Report reported earlier this week, Mr. Brown died Sunday, Nov. 13, at his home surrounded by his family. He was 78.
Carole Christianson, COO of the Western Association of Food Chains (WAFC), calls Mr. Brown “an industry legend that truly exemplified integrity, courage and compassion.”
She adds, “Those of us that were privileged to have his mentorship, support and guidance for many years will be forever grateful. His impact on our industry is tremendous, and his legacy will live on.”
Mr. Brown served as president of the WAFC in 1988 with Headline Ben Green at the annual convention in Dallas, Texas.
“A very proud Navy veteran, Jack established the patriotic WAFC opening ceremonies with the Marine Corps Band and Color Guard by beginning the ritual with his bosun’s whistle,” Christianson recalls.
Mr. Brown spoke with The Shelby Report over the phone just a couple of weeks ago, wishing to comment on the passing of his friend and mentor, Mr. Byron Allumbaugh.
“I can tell you honestly, I wanted to be Byron,” Mr. Brown said then. “I wanted to dress like him. I wanted to talk like him. He was just my idol…”
Undoubtedly, many—especially those in the industry—admired Mr. Brown, too.
Earlier this year, Mr. Brown was inducted into The Food Industry Hall of Fame, coinciding with Stater. Bros.’ 80th anniversary.
Pete Van Helden, who Mr. Brown had just appointed as the grocery chain’s president and CEO, said then, “(Jack) has built a great company, he has built a great family, and I am just honored and humbled to be able to take those shoes and move forward.”
Ron Johnston, president and publisher of The Shelby Report/Shelby Publishing Co., says, “No one was a better friend and supporter of The Shelby Report than Jack H. Brown. When we began growing our brand of coverage into the West, Jack was the first CEO I called upon for his observations on the competitive landscape. The man never disappointed. His insights and obvious devotion to the ‘Stater Family’ never wavered. Jack always had a folder full of news and photos prepared for his guest, plus a credenza equally stocked with coffee, juices and water to wash down the Krispy Kreme donuts and assorted muffins and pastries.
“Jack knew how to handle the press, consumer or trade. The pastry buffet was a nice touch, but he certainly didn’t need it to get what he wanted. His innate ability to ensure you knew the latest Stater news while telling a story or two was a gift. Combined with his charm, wit and an undying dose of patriotism, Jack Brown’s passion for the grocery business shone through like a red, white and blue rainbow. A proud Navy veteran of the Vietnam era, Jack likewise was admired and respected by the very Medal of Honor winners he so appreciated. In 2011, he was given the Patriot Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.
“A 1992 recipient of the Horatio Alger Award, Jack was a fighter all his life. Not in a physical sense, but with his heart, soul and mind. Fighting through the pain of losing a father at the age of 8…finding work to help his mother as she worked to support him…beating back a takeover attempt in February 1986, when Jack boldly gained the unprecedented support of two unions to win back control of Stater Bros. Even the day-to-day challenge of taking care of customers, keeping prices in line, and keeping families in place as their Stater-employed father, mother, brother or sister were called to service in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Their jobs were waiting and medical insurance covered while serving their country. Jack’s only instructions, ‘Come home safe, come home soon.’
“Though the images of Sept. 11, 2001, were well documented, Jack noticed that one was inexplicably missing from the various photos and videos being distributed. He called on his then ad man to create a poster, including the Pentagon with the World Trade Center towers and Statue of Liberty. Intended for local distribution, the poster somehow found its way inside the military complex. Others wanted to know where could they find one? So the chairman, CEO and president of Stater Bros. had a couple thousand reprinted and shipped out to the Pentagon immediately.
“‘It was the right thing to do, for the right reason.’ This was quintessential Jack Brown. The right man for the job, for all the right reasons.”
To honor Mr. Brown’s life and legacy, The Shelby Report remembers him and recognizes the company he built with this special section, which originally appeared online in February and is part of the March 2016 print edition of The Shelby Report of the West.