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Willie Brown, a longtime community servant and State Farm executive, dies

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Illinois State University
Willie Brown

A longtime Bloomington-Normal community servant, Willie Brown, has died.

Brown died on Saturday, WGLT confirmed with Kibler Brady Ruestman Memorial Home. He was 74.

Brown worked at State Farm for 38 years, retiring in 2009 as an executive vice president and one of the Bloomington-based insurance company's most visible faces.

Brown began his State Farm career in 1971 in the data processing department, according to a biography published by the Promi5e Council — a group where Brown recently served as a president.

Brown rose through the ranks at State Farm, and was named assistant division manager in the Maryland office in 1985. In 1989 Brown returned to Bloomington as the company's director of home officer personnel relations. In 1995, Brown was promoted to vice president of operations. Several key promotions followed: he was named vice president of administrative services in 1999, senior vice president of State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company in 2002, and executive vice president in 2004.

But what made Brown a near-household name in Bloomington-Normal was his extensive record of community service. He was one of the most prominent Black leaders in the community.

Brown won the NAACP Roy Wilkins award for lifetime achievement, according to the Promise Council. He was also a lifetime member of the NAACP, and an Urban League member.

He served on many boards, including the State Farm Foundation, United Way of McLean County Board of Directors, the Illinois State University’s College of Business Advisory Board, and the College of Arts and Sciences Community Advisory Board.

Brown was also a trustee of Illinois Wesleyan University and served as president of the college's Associates Board.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from ISU in 1973 and was elected to the ISU College of Business Hall of Fame in 2005, the ISU College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2008, and the Bloomington High School Hall of Fame in 2007.

In 2009, Brown was inducted into the African American Hall of Fame Museum of Peoria as the inaugural recipient of the William Watkins Jr. Founder’s Award, created to honor those individuals that have given outstanding service to their community.

Funeral arrangements had not yet by made Sunday night, according to the funeral home.

This is a developing story and will be updated.


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