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‘A great turnout’ — Funeral home doesn’t let Lincoln vet be buried alone

By PETER SALTER

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    LINCOLN, Nebraska (Lincoln Journal Star) — Irvin Brown began his life alone nearly 90 years ago, at an orphanage in Rhode Island.

He was almost buried alone, too.

After the Air Force veteran and retired postal worker died last week, he left behind a prearranged funeral but no known survivors — he and Edna never had children, and his brother was already gone — prompting the possibility of an empty chapel at Roper and Sons.

That didn’t seem right to Tom Roper.

“We know the veterans groups; they do not want to leave anybody behind,” the funeral home president said. “And we wanted to make sure that since there was a service, that there were people in attendance.”

So Roper and Sons put out a plea late last week, inviting everyone — veterans, their clubs and organizations, even the general public — to Brown’s services.

And an estimated crowd of more than 200 people filled the funeral home’s chapel near 40th and Pine Lake early Monday afternoon, spilling into the overflow room. Patriot Guard members in their leather vests. Gray-haired vets in their side caps. The young and the older. Even Brown’s nieces and nephews, who contacted Roper after the funeral home issued its invitation.

Dozens more watched a livestream broadcast.

Roper saw it coming. “The great thing about the community we live in, everybody feels for an individual, whether they served in the military or not. The Lincoln community has always embraced someone who doesn’t have family.”

They sang “Amazing Grace.” The Rev. Michael McCabe of St. Joseph Catholic Church sprinkled holy water on Brown’s flag-draped casket.

“What a great turnout for Irv,” he said. “Thank you so, so, so much.”

And then he introduced the room to Irvin Brown.

Brown was born in 1932 in Providence, Rhode Island. He served in the Air Force from 1951 to 1971 — at nearly a dozen bases here and abroad, New York to Nebraska, Taiwan to Turkey — before settling in Lincoln.

He started working at the post office in 1972, at the counter and in the delivery truck, retiring in 1987. He’d married Edna in 1963 and lost her 22 years later.

But he found a new family later in life after he moved to the Grand Lodge at the Preserve, McCabe said. His neighbors shared some of their memories with the priest, who shared them at the funeral.

During Brown’s first few years there, before the trees were too tall, he’d keep watch from a third-floor balcony, letting the other residents know when the mail had been delivered.

He’d cut out comic strips from the newspaper, sharing them with the office and the reception desk. He made a special friend, and he looked forward to riding the elevator with her to check their mailboxes.

“He was kind of gruff at times, but he was a marshmallow inside.”

McCabe visited Brown just before he died, to give him the Lord’s blessings. The veteran was ready to go. He’d served his country, family and workplace for nearly 90 years.

And Monday, they served him.

“He was loved,” the priest told the crowd that had gathered to mourn a stranger. “He was cared for in many, many, many ways.”

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