It was just another day at the office for Leroy Brown when he ducked for cover from an FALN bomb, escorted Michael Jackson to the Skydeck or helped evacuate thousands of people from 110 floors or so after the 9/11 attacks.
For 33 years, Mr. Brown was a familiar presence at 233 S. Wacker, known as the Sears Tower when he worked there from 1973 until he retired in 2006.
A 6-foot-5-inch former Green Beret, the security commander greeted visitors from around the world with a smile and “Can I help you?” All the while, his eyes kept scanning the people coming and going — roughly 25,000 a day.
Mark Spencer said he once watched the former high school basketball standout tackle a man who’d jumped on a Sears Tower escalator to flee a robbery.
“Mr. Brown took that guy down with authority and held him waiting for the police,” said Spencer, former spokesman for the operators of the building now known as Willis Tower.
“When he walked in to a room, it was like looking at a movie star,” said Scott Rowell, who maintained the tower’s elevators.
After Mr. Brown retired, he was a deputy mayor of Bolingbrook, as well as a village trustee, Fire and Police Board commissioner and safety coordinator for the Valley View School District. He also hosted a local cable news show, “Bridging the Gap,” and started “Joyfest,” a Christian music festival.
“He was probably the most popular man in the history of Bolingbrook,” said Mayor Roger Claar.
Mr. Brown, 73, died Oct. 31 at Edward Hospital in Naperville. It’s believed he suffered mini-strokes after cardiac bypass surgery, according to his son, also named Leroy Brown.
Mr. Brown grew up in Clarksville, Tennessee, where he tended chicken, cattle and pigs on a family farm that was a way station for African-American travelers at a time they weren’t allowed to enter white restaurants or hotels.
He played basketball for the Burt High School Tigers under renowned coach Davey “The Wiz” Whitney, playing on the team that won the 1961 National Negro High School Basketball Championship.
He earned a basketball scholarship to Philander Smith College in Little Rock, Arkansas, later graduating from Austin Peay State University in Clarksville.
In the 1960s, Mr. Brown joined the Army, where he served in the Special Forces. He didn’t like to talk about Vietnam, according to his son Leroy, who recalled him being shaken after they saw the 1986 movie “Platoon.”
In 1975, he survived an early-morning bombing that blew out 60 windows of the Sears Tower. A Puerto Rican nationalist group, the FALN — the Spanish abbreviation for the group calling itself the Armed Forces of National Liberation — claimed responsibility.
Mr. Brown credited his survival to God and a well-timed call from Patricia, his wife of 51 years, who said, “That was the Holy Spirit that woke me up” to call him at work.
“The windows shattered and would have cut me to shreds had I not gone behind the cement [pillar] to answer the phone,” he told the newspaper Suburban Life in 2011.
At the Sears Tower after the 9/11 attacks in New York City, Washington and Pennsylvania, people “were running out of the building and running in to the stairwells,” said Rowell, but Mr. Brown remained calm and helped organize an orderly evacuation.
He also had to deal with daredevil climbers. In 1999, Frenchman Alain Robert, nicknamed “Spiderman,” ascended the Sears Tower. At the top, “I was there to greet him,” Mr. Brown told WBBM-TV.
In 1981, Dan Goodwin, aka “Spider Dan,” scaled the building. Mr. Brown kept the suction cups Goodwin used in his climb, relatives said.
The discipline he learned in the military was taught at home. “I couldn’t start my day without making the bed,” said his son Leroy.
Mr. Brown was a head usher at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church and “woke up at 3 o’clock every day to read his Bible,” said Leroy Brown.
He was a good sport when people asked him about the 1973 Jim Croce song “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” about a 6-foot-4 Chicagoan who’s “the baddest man in the whole damned town.”
“He didn’t particularly like the song,” said Claar, who nevertheless sometimes got DJs to play it to get a rise out of his friend.
Mr. Brown is also survived by another son, Jeffrey, and five grandchildren. Visitation is scheduled 2 to 6 p.m. Thursday at Bolingbrook’s St. Francis of Assisi church, with a prayer service there from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. He is to lie in state at the church from 9 a.m. until a 10 a.m. funeral Mass Friday. Burial will follow at Hillcrest Cemetery.