Thursday’s story: Celebrate the life of NASA astrophysicist Beth Brown, William Fleming Class of ’87 valedictorian
Beth Brown graduated as Fleming’s valedictorian that year, and that was just the start of her accomplishments. She earned a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from Howard University in Washington, D.C., then went on to the University of Michigan, where she became the first black woman at that school to earn a doctorate in astronomy.
As a child she wanted to be an astronaut. She couldn’t do that because her eyesight wasn’t perfect, but what she ended up doing instead was impressive in its own right: working as an astrophysicist for NASA and researching data on distant galaxies provided by X-ray telescopes.
She remained friends with her schoolmates, and was humble about her amazing career, never providing details unless directly asked.
Her sudden death in 2008 at age 39 from a pulmonary embolism shocked her friends at home and in the scientific community. True to her nature of not flaunting her career, many at the church she attended were surprised by the NASA scientists who showed up en masse for the funeral, said Germaine Fletcher, a childhood friend of Brown’s who is one of the organizers of the Dumas event.
Fletcher said the Class of 1987 has organized the presentation and concert in Brown’s memory during Black History Month to raise awareness “about the people in Roanoke that are here making history.”