MADISON, Ala. (WBRC) - A father honors the daughter he lost in the Tuscaloosa tornado on April 27, 2011 by giving to others and working to make a difference in young people’s lives.
As he patrols the halls of Liberty Middle School in Madison where he’s now principal, if not for a couple of old helmets and pictures, you wouldn’t know Shannon Brown was a former standout defensive lineman at Alabama (co-captain in 1995 and an NFL career cut short by a knee injury).
That’s because his daily purpose isn’t driven by living in the past, but a mission for the present.
Shannon Brown said, “You know, just trying to make a difference in not just these kids or those kids. Everybody really.”
But that desire, that intention is borne out of unthinkable tragedy. On April 27th 2011, after an EF-4 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa, Shannon nor anyone else could get a hold of Loryn, his daughter from his first marriage.
Loryn, who was just finishing up at Shelton State ready to attend Alabama, was living in a rented house with two other girls.
“Then when once we started getting a hold of some people to be able to kind of go towards that area, they couldn’t get to the house. So once I got that phone call, then immediately, I’m in panic mode,” said Brown.
With trees, power lines, debris down everywhere, Shannon’s father, who owned a tree-cutting business in Greensboro, arrived to start cutting a path to reach the rented house. When Shannon got there late that evening from north Alabama where he was a high school football coach, two bodies had been retrieved.
Then a third was pulled out that he was asked to identify. It was Loryn.
Brown said, “And you know, I still struggle with it. You know it’s been ten years. Seems like yesterday. You know, she would’ve been 31. You know they say time heals. Uh, yeah it does. But it made me realize that just how truly precious life is.”
Just four weeks after Loryn’s death, a cleanup effort was organized by former head coach Gene Stallings and former players and staff. To the amazement of many, there was Shannon, on a trackhoe, already helping others.
On his hard hat, written in permanent marker, Rest in Peace, Loryn.
“Well, it definitely was uh, therapeutic. But it was also the sooner we could try to move forward, whatever it’s going to take to help these families, but also a guy that has just lost his child, rolling up his sleeves and I guess leading by example,” said Brown.
And so it’s out of that tragedy, that Shannon now tries to honor her by trying to be his best and encouraging others to do that same.
Brown said, “And Mike, you know the bad thing about it is, we tend to refocus our efforts on helping thy neighbor when tragic things take place.
“Everybody needs to understand that we’re not guaranteed anything. So it’s always important imperative that we’re checking on our neighbors, checking on loved ones. Giving a hug. Make a difference.”
And perhaps what he’s most proud of is that Loryn continues to make a difference in the lives of others, who have big dreams. Spearheaded by her mother Ashley Mims, there are two endowment scholarships in Loryn’s name.
Brown said, “Her legacy will be greater than Shannon Brown’s legacy will ever be thought about. Giving opportunities to those less fortunate. I’m so proud of her. It’s Powerful. And that’s what Loryn Brown will be remembered for, her heart. She was an angel among us.