Jeanie Brown, owner of former Jeanie’s Java cafe at The Boardwalk, dies of coronavirus

August 19, 2020

 

Norma Jean “Jeanie” McCoy Brown, a longtime Tiburon resident who owned the former Jeanie’s Java coffee shop at The Boardwalk Shopping Center, died of complications of COVID-19 on Aug. 10 at Marin Post Acute Care, the Terra Linda skilled-nursing facility where she had lived for the past nine years. She was 92.

 

After testing positive for the coronavirus about two weeks ago, Mrs. Brown was put in isolation. Although she didn’t display many of the usual symptoms except fatigue, she weakened and declined quickly over the following two weeks. COVID-19 was the official cause of death, said her daughter, Mary Sue Esparza of San Juan Capistrano.

 

Mrs. Brown was popularly known for her homey, kitschy Boardwalk cafe, which was stuffed with a hodge-podge of old furniture, some from her apartment and some donated by friends and customers; posters of another Norma Jean: Baker, better known as Marilyn Monroe; vintage signs; mismatched mugs; and other funky bric-a-brac.

 

Mrs. Brown had previously worked in the same space when it was known as Hearts & Flowers Cafe, owned by Peggy O’Neill of Tiburon, a floral designer who also owned the flower shop next door that faced the center’s parking lot and a second location at The Cove Shopping Center.

 

In 2000, Mrs. Brown maxed out her credit cards and bought the Boardwalk cafe from O’Neill, she said in a later interview.

 

“It was her dream to own a coffee shop so when she made that happen at age 72, she was very happy,” Esparza said.

 

Jeanie’s Java offered coffee, tea and an array of wrapped bakery and lunch items that Mrs. Brown purchased from a local baker who prepared them off-site. 

 

The cafe closed in 2011 after she developed a blood disorder and was moved out of her Tiburon apartment and into the nursing facility, at the time known as Rafael Convalescent Hospital. The space is now occupied by Rustic Bakery.

 

A local filmmaker, former Belvedere resident David Becker, made the documentary “The Wisdom of Jeanie Brown,” which drew a standing-room-only crowd when it showed at the Belvedere-Tiburon Library later that year. 

 

In it, Mrs. Brown — who was born Jan. 5, 1928 — talked about growing up poor during the Depression, raised by a single mother who moved to Southern California from Oklahoma.

 

Mrs. Brown left school after eighth grade and at age 14 began a long career as a waitress, which put food on the table. She briefly worked as a secretary for a Catholic school in the 1960s.

 

She met her sixth husband, Tiburon resident Ralph Brown, at the erstwhile Edgewater Inn in Corte Madera, where she was working at the time.

 

Later, when she worked at the Lighthouse Cafe in Sausalito, Folger’s Coffee decided to make a television commercial in the restaurant featuring Mrs. Brown on the job pouring coffee. The TV ad aired mostly on the East Coast for several years, but Mrs. Brown continued to get small residual checks every time it aired.

 

She worked as a manager at the Tiburon Lodge for 10 years before it was sold and renovated and became The Lodge at Tiburon.

 

In 1996, she joined SingersMarin choral groups so she could qualify to perform in its planned Carnegie Hall concert that year. She was asked to join the SingersMarin board of directors in 1997 and was an active booster, according to retired choral director Jan Pedersen Schiff.

 

After more than 40 years in Tiburon, when an acute blood disorder triggered a health crisis, her daughters moved her into the nursing home so she could receive more care. There she became a member of the residents’ council and helped organize entertainment.

 

In 2018, for Mrs. Brown’s 90th birthday, friend Diane Fraser and her husband, then-Mayor Jim Fraser, threw a birthday party for her at The Lodge at Tiburon, where Mrs. Brown’s three daughters — all from Southern California — showed up to surprise her. 

 

Ralph Brown died in 1975. Mrs. Brown subsequently adopted her late husband’s daughter from a previous marriage, Marnie Brown Warner of San Diego. In addition to Esparza and Warner, Mrs. Brown is survived by daughter Carol Thompson Fleming of Encinitas and two grandchildren.

 

At her wishes, no memorial service will be held. 

 

Deirdre McCrohan has reported on Tiburon local government and community issues for more than 30 years. Reach her at 415-944-4634.

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