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Manatee County's First African-American Commissioner Has Died From COVID-19

Apr 19, 2020

Former Manatee County Commissioner Gwendolyn Brown has died from complications related to the coronavirus.

Brown, 68, was the county's first African-American commissioner.

Her death was announced to the public on Friday during an emergency meeting of the County Commission held to discuss COVID-19 and Manatee's temporary curfew.

Brown was elected in 1994 and served District 2, which spans the Manatee River to include Bradenton, Palmetto, Ellenton and Samoset neighborhoods, until 2010.

Commissioner Reggie Bellamy, who now represents District 2, spoke of her impact on Manatee County during Friday’s meeting.

“She had a legacy in our community and my heart goes out to her and her family,” he said. “”We, obviously from the county commission office to the Brown family, extend our deepest condolences. And what this does is this brings reality for what we’re dealing with.”

Ed Chiles, a Manatee County restaurant owner and son of Florida’s 41st Governor Lawton Chiles, said there's one time he spent with his dad and Gwendolyn Brown he now remembers fondly.

“I remember, it was a walk we were doing north of the river, and we were in some of the neighborhoods where she had done a lot of work.  I just remember her side-by-side with Dad, and the way that people reacted to that and seeing the two of them be together and big smiles on their face," said Chiles.

"I think it was the two leaders, you know, that really cared about community, and the communities that they cared about got that.”

One of Brown’s campaign volunteer’s Linda Cinque said that Manatee County has lost a huge part of history and she’s grateful for Gwen Brown’s service and dedication.

"I was one of Gwen’s volunteer’s and was at her watch party the night she won her first election," said Cinque. "It was historic, not just for the Brown family, but the entire district which she represented."

A biography from when she was in office said  Brown had a doctorate in early childhood education and administration from Nova University. She also served as executive director of the county's Head Start program from 1991 to 2002.