Fairport Community Rallies around Coach. My Interview with Gary Brown.

A Few posts back, I wrote about my wondering around Fairport, asking random people in the village about which local folks would make a good story and my brother calling me crazy for doing so. Well, if I didn’t wander around aimlessly, I wouldn’t have found a flyer about a golf benefit for Coach Gary Brown. And I wouldn’t have had the honor and the opportunity to meet this wonderful and brave family facing an incurable disease. Fairport Football coach Gary Brown, center, with his family, from left, Mackenzie, 17; Mike, 12; Max, 19; and his wife, Mary, at their Fairport home. Community support helped build the handicapped-accessible porch.

garybrownFairport Football coach Gary Brown, center, with his family, from left, Mackenzie, 17; Mike, 12; Max, 19; and his wife, Mary, at their Fairport home. Community support helped build the handicapped-accessible porch. / KATE MELTON
Written by
Stacy Gittleman

Get to know Gary Brown

Profession: Field manager at RG&E.
Family: Wife of 21 years, Mary. Sons Max, 19; Mackenzie, 17; and Michael, 12. Mother-in-law, Rita Clark.
Hobbies: Boating, fishing, hunting.
Brown’s advice for living every day:Make someone laugh. Give 110 percent to family and community. Banish the phrase “I can’t.”
What: 15th annual Fairport Football Alumni Association “Gary Brown Red Raider” Golf Classic.
When: 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9.
Where: Victor Hills Golf Club, 1450 Brace Rd, Victor.
Information: Sponsorships $100. Portions of the proceeds will go to the Gary Brown Foundation for MSA Inc. For sponsorship opportunities and more information, contact Don Santini at (585) 223-1274.

When Gary “Brownie” Brown played center for the Fairport Raiders in the 1970s, his coach Don Santini took notice of how his enthusiasm and determination would unite the team at game time.

Santini again drew upon these traits decades later when he asked the 1977 Fairport High School graduate back to help coach the team as a volunteer.

In 2003, Brown, a field manager for RG&E, completed the New York State High School Coaching Certification program and joined the coaching team for the Raiders.

Santini, who retired from coaching after leading the Raiders from 1975-92, describes Brown as “a doer.”

When Santini’s widowed sister-in-law needed her house painted, Brown organized a crew of friends and students to get the job done. Brown in 2007 started an alumni fundraiser to sell bricks to create a “Walk of Pride” walkway on campus to benefit the football team and raise scholarship money for Fairport graduates.

For seven seasons, Brown taught students what it takes to be successful on the field. He helped them build speed, coordination and balance.

But starting in 2009, Brown noticed some troubling symptoms in his own physical condition.

He often felt dizzy and had trouble keeping his own balance. He could not run as fast as he did in previous years.

After tests and doctors’ visits that came up empty and just days after his oldest son Max graduated Fairport High School in June 2011, Brown was diagnosed by a doctor in Michigan with a rare, degenerative disease called Multiple System Atrophy, or MSA.

MSA is a progressive and incurable neurological disorder that impairs the body’s involuntary (autonomic) functions, including blood pressure, heart rate, bladder function and digestion. The Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms, such as slowness of movement, muscle rigidity and poor balance, affects 15 out of 100,000 people nationwide.

“This has been very stressful on all of us,” Brown said in slurred speech — another symptom of the disease. He noted that his wife, Mary, and sons attend weekly counseling sessions with a therapist. There is also a counselor available to Max as he attends classes at State University College at Cortland.

Through therapy, the Browns have come to a realization that they can’t go through this alone. But with the outpouring of the Fairport community, they won’t have to.

In January, Santini and other close friends of Brown established the nonprofit Gary Brown Foundation for MSA. Money from the foundation will be used to help the family with medical and counseling costs, raise awareness about the disease and offer support to others in Rochester struck by this disease. So far, just two others with MSA in the Rochester area have contacted the foundation.

The first fundraiser held back in January drew 900 Brown fans out to roast the coach and bid on silent auction items. It raised $58,000. The next, a golf tournament sponsored by the Fairport Football Alumni Association, will be held 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 9, at Victor Hills Golf Club, 1450 Brace Road, Victor. In addition to funding athletic scholarships at Fairport High School, a “significant portion” of the money raised will benefit the Brown Foundation, said Santini.

Funds from this foundation have enabled Brown to enjoy the company of family and friends on a porch with a handicapped-accessible ramp.

Brown thanks local contractors like Westwood Development for donating their labor to build the porch as well as a handicapped-accessible bathroom and bedroom on the ground floor of their house. Bristol’s Garden Center also donated materials for landscaping.

The foundation also paid for a golf cart that Brown uses to drive to the school to watch football practices and games. Though he is no longer coaching, Santini said his reputation still carries on and he gets a warm welcome from the kids.

“Fairport Raiders past and present, and even little siblings not yet in high school, will come over to shake Brown’s hand,” said Santini.

Mary, who describes herself as a “Buffalo girl,” can understand why people like her husband want to spend all their lives in Fairport. She has been “blown away” at the support the community has bestowed upon her family.

“If I pick up the phone to one person for help, I get 10 responses,” she said, referring to her neighbors who have prepared meals for nearly a year and helped care for their sons while Brown travels to Michigan for treatments.

The prognosis is grim. Doctors have given Brown a life expectancy of four years. But Brown knows he will be in good hands. In 2007, Mary received her master’s in nurse practitioning at the University ofRochester, long before Brown became ill.

“You know what (the late) Steve Jobs said, how you can only connect the dots in life when you are looking backwards? I truly believe that. I truly believe there are no coincidences in this life.”

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About stacylynngittleman

I have been a reporter and public relations professional for over 30 years, specializing in profile features and investigative longform writing. During my career I've profiled WWII Honor Flight Veterans, artists and musicians and have written on topics that range from environmental and gun control issues to Jewish culture. Click around on my writing samples plus read my blog on my personal life raising three kids over 27 years and three cities.

10 responses to “Fairport Community Rallies around Coach. My Interview with Gary Brown.”

  1. Mom says :

    Beautifully written story The coach and his family are in my prayers. He is obviously, dearly loved and cherished


  2. Terry says :

    my eyes water as I read about the Brown family. You paid tribute to him so elegantly. You are a beautiful person Stacy. Thank you for sharing this with me


    • stacylynngittleman says :

      I hope it is a comfort to you and your brother. I know that there are support groups for those with MSA and their loved ones, and perhaps you can contact Coach Brown, though I have not contacted him since I wrote this piece. Gd bless and good luck.


      • Terry says :

        thank you Stacy. I want to reach out but yet I don’t. Hospice is with Al and me now and time is running low. I hope they find a cure for others who may be suffering from this


  3. Terry says :

    Reblogged this on terry1954 and commented:
    a blogging friend wrote a story about a Coach with M.S.A.
    It is so beautiful I had to share it with you


  4. tersiaburger says :

    How lucky Coach Brown and his family are to be surrounded by a loving community. More often than not people are isolated in sickness.


  5. Terry says :

    I wanted to let you know Stacy, that my brother passed away from MSA on March 24th, 2014. I am still mourning his loss and miss caring for him and miss him so much. He deserved to go to heaven, yes he sure did, but the void in my heart says I wish I had him back. I am almost done writing my book about my brother’s life and MSA. I am looking for a reasonable editor and publisher for this book. Although my first book is out there, I want this book to reach doctors and medical settings. I could use some help if you know of anyone that could help me. I have been contacted by the Illinois Hospice to teach them what I know about MSA, and with my writing and photography, I am always searching for an open door to help spread the word. You can reach me through my blog, or you can email me anytime at
    I don’t know you personally, but I admire you greatly for your work and efforts


    • stacylynngittleman says :

      I am so sorry for your brother’s passing. He was lucky to have such a good sibling and someone to keep his memory alive. Best of luck with the book, I’ve never had the courage to write a whole book, so I don’t know much about the publishing/editing world. thank you for keeping in touch, again, so sorry for your loss.


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