Born in Hardisty, AB, in 1919 and raised in Surrey, BC, May Brown became a significant and highly respected force in sport and outdoor education in Canada.
She taught in the School of Physical Education (now the UBC School of Kinesiology) from 1947 until 1955, returning in 1961 to complete her master’s degree in physical education. As the first hired coach for the UBC women’s field hockey team, May is remembered for instilling a sense of team loyalty and accountability that continues to the present day. She was also a pioneer in the promotion and organization of synchronized swimming in BC, coaching some of UBC’s young swimmers during the 1950s and ’60s. Today, UBC’s coveted May Brown Trophy goes to the graduating female athlete of the year. May was passionate about outdoor education and its role in supporting active living for young people. She and her husband, UBC faculty member Lorne Brown, founded Camp Deka boys’ camp in BC’s interior, which they directed for 15 years.
Beyond UBC, May had a distinguished political career, saying she was motivated to join politics in part by the poor state of Vancouver’s playing fields. She was elected to the Vancouver Park Board and served as a city councillor for 10 years. She also served on the boards of the YWCA, the Canadian Camping Association, the National Advisory Council of Fitness and Amateur Sport, Sport BC, the Vancouver Community Arts Council, and the Victoria Commonwealth Games Society. Her support of women in sport and public life earned her enormous respect and admiration.
May maintained strong and supportive connections with UBC athletics and in 1987 received an honorary doctorate from the university. In 2000, she received an alumni UBC Achievement Award and in 2007 was inducted into the UBC Sports Hall of Fame. In 2012 she became the first woman to receive the BC Sports Hall of Fame’s W.A.C. Bennett Award for her contributions to field hockey.
In 1986, May was appointed to the Order of Canada and in 1993 to the Order of British Columbia. She died this March in Vancouver, aged 99.