Pat Brown, Governor

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Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, Sr.

Birthdate: (90)
Birthplace: San Francisco, California, United States
Death: Died in Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Cause of death: heart attack
Place of Burial: Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Edmund Joseph Brown and Ida Brown
Husband of Bernice Layne Brown
Father of Barbara Layne Casey; Cynthia Arden Kelly; Kathleen Lynn Brown and Jerry Brown, Governor

Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Pat Brown, Governor

Click here to view the Wikipedia page for Pat Brown.

Edmund Gerald “Pat” Brown, Sr. (April 21, 1905 – February 16, 1996) was the 32nd governor of California from 1959 to 1967 and the father of 34th and 39th governor of California, Jerry Brown.


Brown was born in San Francisco, California, one of four children of Edmund and Ida Schuckman Brown. His father was an Irish Catholic, his mother a German Protestant. He acquired the nickname "Pat" during his school years; the nickname was a reference to his Patrick Henry-like oratory. When he was 12 and selling Liberty Bonds on street corners, he would end his spiel with, "Give me liberty, or give me death."

Brown was a debate champion as a member of the Lowell Forensic Society at San Francisco's Lowell High School, from which he graduated in 1923. Brown skipped college and worked in his father's cigar store while studying law at a local night school. He graduated from San Francisco College of Law in spring 1927, passed the California bar exam the following fall, and started a law practice in San Francisco.

Brown ran as a Republican Party for the State Assembly in 1928, but lost; he joined the Democratic Party in 1932. He waited until 1939 to seek public office again, this time running for District Attorney of San Francisco, a race he lost to Matthew Brady.

He ran again for District Attorney in 1943, and this time won. He served in that position for seven years, and made his name attacking bookies and underground abortion providers. In 1949, he raided Sally Stanford's elegant San Francisco bordello.

In 1946, as the Democratic nominee, Brown lost the race for Attorney General of California to Los Angeles County District Attorney Frederick N. Howser. Running again in 1950, he won election as Attorney General and was re-elected in 1954. While he was Attorney General, he was the only Democrat to win statewide election in California.

Governor of California

In 1958, he was the Democratic nominee for Governor of California. He defeated Republican U.S. Senator William F. Knowland by a near 3/5ths supermajority of 59.75% to 40.16%, and an outright majority with over 1 million more votes out of just over 5.25 million. He was re-elected in 1962, defeating former Vice President Richard Nixon by 52% to 47%. He lost the 1966 election to another future Republican President, Ronald Reagan. Following the turbulence of the Watts Riots, the Free Speech Movement at the University of California, Berkeley, the Vietnam War Protests, and Death Penalty politics, a law-and-order Reagan dramatically unseated Brown, who had pledged only 2 terms, with 58% to 42%, winning another similarly huge majority as Brown's '58 gubernatorial success over Knowland, with some 990,000 more votes.

Brown's two terms were marked by an enormous water-resources development program. The California Aqueduct built as part of the program now bears his name. He also presided over the enactment of the California Master Plan for Higher Education, fair employment legislation, a state economic development commission, and a consumers' council. He sponsored some forty major proposals, only five of which failed to pass in the Legislature.

On April 14, 1960, Governor Brown signed the Donahoe Higher Education Act, more informally known as the “Master Plan.” This was actually composed of three parts. There was the statutory bill, which set the functions of the various public institutions. Next there was a constitutional amendment creating a Board of Trustees for the state college system. And finally, there were dozens of general agreements never officially sanctioned by law, including admissions guidelines, maintaining a nontuition policy for California residents other than "incidental costs," and beginning a policy of charging tuition for out-of-state students. During Brown’s two terms, enrollment in higher education in California, including junior colleges, approximately doubled. Spending for the University of California system more than doubled, and for the state colleges more than tripled. Four new state colleges were opened, and three new campuses for the UC system were built.

During his two terms in office, Brown commuted 23 death sentences, signing the first commutation on his second day in office. One of his more notable commutations was the death sentence of Erwin "Machine-Gun" Walker, whose execution in the gas chamber for first-degree murder had been postponed some hours before it was to take place because of an attempted suicide. After recovering, Walker's execution was postponed again while he was being restored to mental competency. After Walker was declared sane in 1961, Brown commuted Walker's death sentence to life without the possibility of parole. Walker would later be paroled anyway after the California Supreme Court held that Governor Brown could not legally deny a prisoner the right to parole in a death sentence commutation. Another prisoner whose death sentence was commuted by Brown committed at least one murder after being paroled.

In contrast, Governor Brown allowed 36 executions, including the highly controversial case of Caryl Chessman in 1960 and Elizabeth Duncan - the last female put to death before a national moratorium was instituted.[8] Though he had supported the death penalty while serving as district attorney, as Attorney General, and when first elected Governor, he later became an opponent of its use. While Governor, Brown's attitude towards the death penalty was often ambivalent, if not arbitrary. An ardent supporter of gun control, Brown was more inclined to let convicts go to the gas chamber if they had killed with guns than with a knife or (in one actual case) with a bowling pin. He later admitted that he had denied clemency in one death penalty case principally because the legislator who represented the district in which the murder occurred held a swing vote on farmworker legislation supported by Brown, and who told Brown that his district "would go up in smoke" if the governor commuted the man's sentence.

During the Chessman case Brown proposed that the death penalty be abolished, but the proposal failed. His Republican successor, Ronald Reagan, was a firm death penalty supporter and oversaw the last pre-Furman execution in California in 1967.

Brown was a relatively popular Democrat in what was, at the time, a Republican leaning state. After his re-election victory over Richard Nixon in 1962, he was strongly considered to be Lyndon Johnson's running mate in 1964, a position that eventually went to Hubert Humphrey. However, Brown's popularity began to sag amidst the civil disorders of the Watts Riots and the early anti-Vietnam war demonstrations at U.C. Berkeley. His decision to seek a 3rd term as governor (after promising earlier that he would not do so) also hurt his popularity. His sagging popularity was evidenced by a tough battle in the Democratic primary - normally not a concern for an incumbent. Los Angeles Mayor Sam Yorty received 38% of the primary vote while Brown barely received 52%, a very low number for an incumbent in a primary election.

The Republicans seized upon Brown's sudden unpopularity by nominating a well known and charismatic political outsider - actor Ronald Reagan. With Richard Nixon working tirelessly behind the scenes and Reagan trumpeting his law and order campaign message, Reagan received almost 2/3 of the primary vote over George Christopher, the moderate Republican former mayor of San Francisco, and went into the general election with a great deal of momentum. At first Brown ran a low key campaign, stating that running the state was his biggest priority. As Reagan's lead in the polls increased, Brown began to panic and made a gaffe when he told a group of school children that an actor, John Wilkes Booth, had killed Abraham Lincoln. The comparison of Reagan to Booth did not go over well and led to a further decline of the Brown campaign. By election day, Reagan was ahead in the polls and favored to win a relatively close election. However, Reagan won in a landslide; his nearly 1 million vote plurality surprised even his staunchest supporters.

Personal life

Brown and his wife, Bernice Layne, the daughter of a San Francisco police captain, were childhood sweethearts. They married in 1930 and had four children (all born in San Francisco):

  • Barbara Layne Brown [Casey] (born July 13, 1931)
  • Cynthia Arden Brown [Kelly] (born October 19, 1933)
  • Edmund Gerald ("Jerry") Brown, Jr. (born April 7, 1938)
  • Kathleen Lynn Brown (born September 25, 1945)

In 1958, as governor-elect, Brown appeared as a guest challenger on the TV panel show What's My Line?

Pat Brown died at age 90 in Beverly Hills and is interred at Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma. His funeral was the most recent gubernatorial funeral to be held in the state of California to date.

“My son asked me what I hoped to accomplish as Governor. I told him: essentially to make life more comfortable for people, as far as government can. I think that embraces everything from developing the water resources vital to California's growth, to getting a man to work and back fifteen minutes earlier if it can be done through a state highway program.”

Presidential and vice presidential candidate

Unlike his son, Jerry, Pat Brown never seriously ran for President of the United States, but he frequently was California's "favorite son." At the quadrennial American national political party conventions, a state delegation sometimes nominates and votes for a candidate from the state, or less often from the state's region, who is not a viable candidate. The technique allows state leaders to negotiate with leading candidates in exchange for the delegation's support. The technique was widely used in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Since nationwide campaigns by candidates and binding primary elections have replaced brokered conventions, the technique has fallen out of use.

During the 1952 Democratic primaries Brown placed distant second to Estes Kefauver in total votes (65.04% to 9.97%), losing California to Kefauver.

During Governor Brown's first term (1959 – 1963), the national census confirmed that California had become the nation's most populous state. Brown's political popularity, multiplied by the state's population, would contribute to two national Presidential victories, when he pledged his votes to the national candidates, (Kennedy in 1960, and Johnson in 1964), at the Democratic conventions.

As governor, Brown was again California's favorite son in 1960, winning his home state with a large margin to his only opponent George H. McLain. Brown joined favorite sons Ohio's Albert S. Porter, Governor Michael DiSalle and Florida Senator George Smathers.

More serious primary candidates were Lyndon B. Johnson, Hubert Humphrey, Adlai Stevenson II and Stuart Symington in 1960, with the nomination going to John F. Kennedy. Brown ran only in the California state primary. Yet his popularity with the largest state electorate in the nation gave him second place in the national Democratic primary vote, just behind Kennedy. Thus he repeated his 1952 state and national rankings. However, only one delegate cast his vote for Brown for President at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

During the 1964 primaries, by running again only in California, the nation's largest state electorate vote led Brown to place first this time in both the California and the Democratic national primary total, besting the eventual nominee. Brown, as well as over a dozen other candidates except George Wallace, was a stalking horse for incumbent Lyndon B. Johnson, whose nomination was assured.

As for the vice presidency, he briefly sought nomination at the 1956 Democratic National Convention, winning one vote.

Political party identity in California

Prior to 1959, loyalty to a political party was not an important issue in California. Through a practice known as cross-filing, a person could run in both the Democratic primary and the Republican primary at the same time. As indicated in the article on the California Democratic Party, Governor Earl Warren did so in 1946 and 1950. Cross-filing was abolished in 1959. Thus the fact that Brown first ran for office as a Republican and later as a Democrat was not, at that time, as significant in California as it would have been elsewhere.


  • Edmund G. (Pat) Brown, Reagan and Reality: The Two Californias (NY, 1970)
  • R. Rapoport. California Dreaming: The Political Odyssey of Pat & Jerry Brown, Berkeley: Nolo Press (1982) ISBN 0-917316-48-7
  • Rarick, Ethan (2006), California Rising: The Life and Times of Pat Brown, Berkeley, California, United States: University of California Press
view all

Pat Brown, Governor's Timeline

April 21, 1905
San Francisco, California, United States
July 13, 1931
Age 26
San Francisco, California, United States
October 19, 1933
Age 28
San Francisco, California, United States
April 7, 1938
Age 32
September 25, 1945
Age 40
San Francisco, California, United States
February 16, 1996
Age 90
Beverly Hills, Los Angeles County, California, United States
Colma, San Mateo County, California, United States