A tribute to Glen Brown, leading AIDS activist and progressive social justice advocate

by Rowena Griffiths | June 9, 2019
Background media: Glen Brown looking at sunset

A tribute to Glen Brown, leading AIDS activist and progressive social justice advocate

by Rowena Griffiths | June 9, 2019
Glen Brown

One of the things that inspires me most is the opportunity to learn more about the people behind the legacy gifts that are left to Oxfam Canada.

Glen’s story is quite exceptional, and one I will not forget. He accomplished so much in his life and, sadly, died too young at the age of 58. A long-time supporter, we are honoured that Glen chose to leave the residue of his estate, a transformational gift of more than $800,000, to Oxfam Canada – in part, a tribute to his mother, Eileen Brown. It is also a reflection of his stalwart dedication and devotion to doing his part to effect change and make the world a better place.

In his obituary, Glen was remembered as someone who made a huge impact on many people – in both his professional and personal life. He was a tireless social justice activist, a central figure in HIV/AIDS advocacy in Canada and a key member of AIDS Action Now!

Tim McCaskell, a dear friend and fellow activist shared this moving tribute:

Glen was key in launching the campaign to demand a catastrophic drug policy to cover the high costs of AIDS treatments [in Fall 1990], and helped organize the occupation of the offices of the Minister of Health to push that demand the following year. Probably his most significant contribution was his role as key strategist in winning the establishment of the Trillium Drug Program in 1994 – a program that covered the cost of medications for all Ontarians facing serious illnesses. His work was critical in shaping the response to the AIDS epidemic in Canada. So many of us owe him our lives.

Glen more recently became a prominent environmental leader through his work with Greenpeace Canada. In his professional life, Glen helped many social service organizations communicate better, work more effectively, and improve their impact on society. His commitment accomplished many changes in the world, and he did it for all the right reasons.

Linda Gardner, a long-time friend who witnessed the power and commitment of his work for women's rights, and his support of Oxfam's mission and values, said:

Glen had a deep commitment to women's empowerment and equality. Over the many years of our friendship, Glen always worked in his professional and personal life to support women's issues and rights and to ensure a space for women's voices to be heard. Whether it was reproductive rights, equal pay for equal work, affordable childcare, ending violence against women, affordable housing and fighting against HIV stigma, racism, homophobia, transphobia and poverty. He actively participated in demonstrations and rallies, writing comprehensive reports, submissions and articles and giving many many speeches. Glen was a strong ally and advocate and without a doubt, had a far reaching impact on improving the lives of women and girls.

When I spoke with Pieter Huisman, Glen’s long-time friend and the executor of his estate, he reflected on the shared charitable and AIDS activism interests that they had. Pieter echoed the same sentiments that I had read in the comments on the online obituary sites and tributes from the memorial. That Glen was “intelligent, resourceful, thoughtful, well-respected and caring”. He shared that Glen had an extensive t-shirt collection emblazoned with sayings. These were hanging around the perimeter at the memorial attended by more than 200 people – and everyone was invited to take one as a memento of Glen.

We chatted about the impact that the magnitude of Glen’s legacy gift would have on Oxfam Canada. As a former Director of Operations for a not-for-profit organization in Toronto, Pieter reflected on how important bequests are for organizations, and how receiving them “lets you breathe – and dream bigger”.

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