The Randolph Society Foundation Board is pleased to announce that Barbara Leavitt Brown, a trailblazing educator and public servant, will be inducted into the 2022 class of honorees.
Barbara Colleen Leavitt was born in Red Bud in October 1954. She was the first daughter of James and Colleen Leavitt, who had deep roots in southern Illinois. On the Leavitt family farm in Ellis Grove, Barb grew up with two older brothers, John and Carl, and four younger sisters, Shelby, Joann, Karen, and Rebecca. Education was important in the Leavitt household, and Barb grew up to be a standout student with varied interests, nurturing a love for learning that would last for the rest of her life. After graduating from Sparta High School in 1972, she enrolled at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale, majoring in political science.
Barb would eventually earn three degrees from SIU, and she became an important member of the alumni community in the region. In May 1985, Barb and her sisters were the subjects of a profile in the Southern Illinoisan, celebrating the number of SIU degrees—eight—that they had collectively earned. That spring, Barb graduated with her doctoral degree in political science, capping “the formal end of an education that started with first grade in fall 1959 and continued more or less without interruption through December 1984, when she completed her dissertation.”
In August 1976, Barb married a fellow SIU student, Richard Brown. While she completed her graduate degrees, and he finished law school, they also expanded their family. Barb affectionately referred to their three sons, Jay, Matt, and Nate, as “those Brown boys.” The Browns worked hard to balance the demands of their jobs with the responsibilities of parenthood. Barb began working as a lecturer in the political science department at SIU in the fall of 1983, extending her passion for education to her students. Barb’s career as an educator, which lasted until 2000, became one of the defining achievements of her life. She was a mentor and advocate for countless students who learned to become more engaged citizens in her political science classes.
Barb’s political science studies also inspired her to take on a hands-on role in local political organizing. She served as a delegate at nine Democratic National Conventions. In an era when women were beginning to be more visible in the political world, Barb was a trailblazer in Randolph County politics. At first, her political interests were primarily centered on recruitment and organization. Encouraged by mentors like SIU professor John Jackson, she became chair of the Randolph County Democratic Party in the early 1980s and worked to develop local candidates. Barb firmly believed that opportunity was the only serious barrier to increased political involvement for women in the region, and she was part of numerous initiatives dedicated to opening more doors for women in the political arena.
As Barb’s profile in state and national politics rose, she decided to seek political office herself. She ran twice for a seat in the Illinois State Senate, and in 2000, she was elected Randolph County Circuit Clerk. She served in the position for more than a decade. Barb used her skills and connections to support the people of Randolph County throughout her lifetime. She was a proud organizing member of the local chapter of the NSDAR, and she was dedicated to supporting and honoring local veterans. For many years, she led the annual Independence Day celebrations at the Liberty Bell of the West Shrine on Kaskaskia Island. Barb served on the board of trustees at Chester Public Library, was a member of the local Rotary International Club, and was a founding member of Chester’s 4-H Club. She was a longtime supporter of the American Cancer Society, helping to establish Randolph County’s Relay for Life program.
At the end of her life, Barb persevered through a lengthy course of treatment for cancer. She passed away on May 5, 2016, in Chester. In the years since her passing, her family and friends have kept her spirit of service alive through programs like the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute’s Barb Brown Springfield Internship and the Barb Brown Memorial Endowment.
Senator Dick Durbin, a longtime colleague and friend, called her “a trailblazer, a devoted mother, an inspirational professor and a tireless public servant.” Barb Brown’s legacy of service and dedication to the people of Randolph County challenges us all to become more involved with work in our communities, sharing our gifts and talents to inspire those around us to think bigger and reach higher.