Even in the last moments of his life, Jesse Brown Jr. was doing what he did best - making other people laugh.
As he was being taken to the operating room to repair complications from heart bypass surgery, Mr. Brown was cracking jokes with the nurses, said his wife, Evangeline.
"He had a sense of humor that was so spontaneous," she said. "He had a way of putting people at ease."
Mr. Brown, 68, died Monday at Aiken Regional Medical Centers. A memorial service will take place at 11 a.m. today at First Baptist Church in Aiken. Burial will be private.
His ability to make others feel comfortable made Mr. Brown the perfect fit for his career as a Baptist preacher, his wife said. But it was a career that almost didn't happen.
Mr. Brown had hopes of attending Clemson University or The Citadel on a football scholarship, but a back injury thwarted those plans. Instead, he attended Furman University and chose to go into the ministry. He was ordained when he was a college sophomore in May 1954.
"That was very young and very early," Mrs. Brown said. "But because he had been doing so much preaching, the college felt it was the right thing to do."
When he finished school at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, Mr. Brown sought work in that area. Before retirement, he had been a pastor at Central Baptist Church in Woodbury, N.J.; First Baptist Church in Whitman, Mass.; First Baptist Church in Carnegie, Pa.; and First Baptist Church in Beverly, N.J.
In his spare time, Mr. Brown enjoyed an honorary lifetime membership in the Porcelain Painters International Organization, a group of mostly female china painters.
His interest in art was a motivator, his wife said, but he also used the group as another way to impart his knowledge and humor on others, earning himself the title of the group's answer man.
"He had a knack for knowing what to say at any given moment," Mrs. Brown said. "He knew everything about whatever was of interest at the moment. He touched a lot of people's lives."
Mr. Brown also is survived by a son, Jesse Bradford Brown III; a daughter, Jeanine B. Lang; two sisters, Mary B. LeGrand and Scarlett B. Collins; and three grandchildren.
Reach Jennifer Hilliard at (706) 823-3220 or firstname.lastname@example.org.