Sam Brown could often be found playing his acoustic guitar connected to an amplifier outside of the downtown Eugene Post Office. Brown, who was homeless, died on July 24. He was 64. He’s remembered by his friends as someone who loved music, literature, comic books and movies.
Amberlee Dawson first met Brown four years ago. She says she would usually nod or say hello to him as she passed by. But in 2018, she had an extra ticket to the Neil Young show at Matthew Knight Arena and no one to go with. Maybe it was divine intervention, she recalls, but she had the idea to invite Brown.
“He would play Neil Young songs, specifically ‘Keep on Rockin’ in the Free World,’” she says.
When she invited Brown to the concert, she remembers him replying that it was the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him. And after the concert, he told her it was a highlight of his life, she says. “This is the greatest thing anyone could’ve done for me,” she recalls him telling her.
The two developed a friendship. They would get breakfast together, his favorite place being Brail’s. She says they would talk about a lot of things, from transcendentalism to comic book series arcs. He could even recite Shakespeare, she adds.
Music was a big part of Brown’s life. Dawson says he could play any genre, and she wonders if he had a photogenic memory, but his favorite music to play was classic rock.
Sally Pravel, who delivered food to Brown as a volunteer for Burrito Brigade, says he was independent and resourceful. He recorded music in a 4-foot by 8-foot storage locker. He camped in the woods near Alton Baker Park and returned to his storage locker during the day. “He was somewhat of a hermit,” she says in an interview via Facebook Messenger. “He had the gift of finding comforting words, put others before himself.”
Dawson, a case worker, was helping Brown access services, such as Social Security and Section 8 housing. She says she wanted him to have more stability so he wouldn’t be busking all the time, but she later found out that Brown was actually busking to buy food for his cat.
She says that they never really discussed too much about his personal life, but Brown mentioned that he had a son that he hadn’t seen since he was an infant, and that he was on bad terms with the son’s mother. She says that he didn’t drink alcohol or do drugs, though he did smoke weed occasionally.
Before he moved to Eugene, Dawson says, Brown grew up on the Oregon coast. He had worked as a fisherman but he told her that growing up he was a long-haired hippie who played rock music and wrote short stories. He moved to New Mexico for a while, where he spent time on a ranch with a girlfriend. He then lived in a temporary housing arrangement in Corvallis and played guitar in coffee shops there. And for the past 20 years, he’s lived in Eugene.
Shortly before his death, he was staying in a trailer outside of a Whiteaker storage facility, where he kept an eye on the property for the owner. When Oregon had its July 2022 heatwave, Dawson says she tried contacting Brown to make sure he had what he needed to weather through it. But he wasn’t responding, which was uncharacteristic of him. She went to his trailer and found out from the property owner that he had likely had a heart attack.
“Sam was kind and thoughtful,” Dawson says. “He was such a considerate friend. He was very respectful, so genuine.”
Sam Brown’s memorial service is 6 pm Saturday, Sept. 3 at the Owen Rose Garden at 300 W. Jefferson Street.
Eugene Weekly seeks to run obituaries for those who die homeless in Lane County. This is the third we’ve published so far in 2022. If you know of someone who has died while homeless this year, please let us know at Editor@EugeneWeekly.com.