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Music amid the chaos of war
Choir director now leads a quieter life
Scott Brown, choir director at St. Ann Church in Arlington, has worked in some of the most dangerous places in the world. He’s helped put countries reeling from war and financial instability back on a solid economic path. Although the connection between financial systems and dangerous places may appear tenuous, it’s very real.
The Princeton and George Washington University graduate joined the Federal Reserve as an economic assistant and worked there from 1974-78. He joined the U.S. Department of Treasury in 1978 as a senior economist for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for International Affairs (OASIA), helping to guide the international policy of the federal government. In 1984, he joined the State Department as a special assistant to the under secretary for economic affairs.
After a two year tour at State, he joined the International Monetary Fund (IMF) His first assignment was in the beleaguered country of Uganda, arriving there soon after the notorious regime of Idi Amin ended.
“The country was destroyed,” Brown said.
It was difficult and unpleasant work, but Brown saw a chance to help them restart the banking system.
After Uganda, he was sent to Bosnia from 1995-98 to fix the country’s ailing economic system that suffered from years of internecine warfare. In the summer of 1999, he went to Kosovo and worked there for six months.
In all these locations he was able to find a place to worship. Brown was a convert to Catholicism, entering the Church in 1987. He’d been married for nine years to Kathleen, and went to Mass even before converting, “but having children made it more timely,” he said.
Some places were easier to worship than others. In Kosovo, Brown attended an ad-hoc church, set up wherever Catholics could find space and a priest. Christians were a minority in Kosovo. In Bosnia it was easier to find a church.
“In Bosnia, there was not a big cultural divide,” Brown said.
Music had been a part of Brown’s life since he was a boy. He took piano lessons at age 8 and played the trumpet and sang. But the guitar was the instrument he loved.
Music was part of his tours of duty, too. He brought a guitar on most of his assignments.
“I generally took a guitar once I knew I would be traveling to a country often. Good for me, and a good bridge-builder in dealing with the people there,” Brown said.
This was all dangerous work, but through most of it he felt safe.
“I never really feared for my life,” he said.
Real dangerous places
After Kosovo, Brown worked for the IMF in Washington, D.C, for several years until he was loaned to the United Nations relief effort in Iraq in 2003.
He went to work for Sérgio Vieira de Mello, the special representative of the U.N. Secretary General. Vieira de Mello was a career U.N. diplomat well respected for his humanitarian work throughout the world.
Brown was excited about the prospect of working for Vieira de Mello as his economic adviser. In Baghdad he quickly began meeting with U.S. officials to begin dealing with refugee issues.
On Aug. 19, 2003, Brown’s world changed. He was working in the U.N. compound when a suicide bomber drove a truck bomb near the U.N. Assistance Mission. Brown was returning to his office when the bomb exploded.
The blast threw him out of his office. The explosion was horrific and the aftermath equally devastating.
“My face was flayed by shrapnel,” Brown said. The blast also shattered his left arm.
The man he worked for and admired, Vieira de Mello, was killed.
Brown was in rehab for six months and went back to work in Washington part-time for another six months.
The injuries to his arm and fingers were troubling. His left arm and fingers were partially paralyzed, and a man who plays guitar and piano needs working fingers and a working arm.
He doesn’t play the guitar anymore, but he can still play the piano. His left arm won’t flex, but the surgeons who stitched him up “put it in a keyboard position,” Brown said.
A peaceful place
After years of helping countries fix their monetary problems and putting himself in physical jeopardy, Brown retired from the IMF in 2008.
He was involved with the St. Ann choir as a volunteer for 20 years before retiring, but he’s now the director of the contemporary choir. It was a way to combine his love of music and his faith.
“Our faith is wrapped around our lives,” Brown said of the importance of his beliefs to he and his family.
When Brown reflects on his years of service in perilous places he’s struck by the humanity that was found in those areas.
“I was inspired. Most people were decent,” he said. “We’re all God’s creation. People can choose to be good.”