After the head custodian at Edenton’s White Oak Elementary, Raymond Brown, didn’t take home the North Carolina School Hero Award he’d been nominated for last year, an entire community—led by one determined mom—got together to let him know just how much they appreciated him. Adrian Wood, whose autistic son Amos has formed a special bond with Brown said Brown welcomed her son and when the most popular man in the school gives her son a nice nickname, it drew other children in, leaving Amos with no trouble fitting in. “As a mom of a child with a disability, there’s nothing more I want in the world to others to include him” Wood said.
When the kids at his school realized there was something special going on between the 7-year-old and the school’s favorite grownup, it helped them see Amos in a way they hadn’t before. All the kids started talking to him. Even now, if you walk down the hall, you’ll hear children say, “There’s Famous Amos! Hey, Famous Amos!’
With her other two children, Wood went through the usual school-related worries, but having a child with special needs was another experience entirely. “Sending Amos to school was such a different path. He was 3 when he started school. He was in diapers and he didn’t speak. But after Mr. Brown started saying hello to him and calling him Famous Amos,’ Amos started saying, ‘Hey Brown,’ when he saw him. He wasn’t even saying ‘Daddy,’ at that point, so it was really something” Wood said.
Brown’s affection for little Amos helped the now 7-year-old fit in with his fellow students. “You have this man that everybody loves suddenly paying attention to this little boy,” Wood added, “Amos is a hard friend to have. He takes a lot more than he gives and that’s tough for children. But those kids saw that he was popular and loved and they started fighting over who would get to hold Amos’ hand on the way to the classroom. It meant so much to me for him to be so favored by the other children at school, and Mr. Brown had a big hand in that.”
When Brown was passed over for the NC Heroes Award, Wood admits to crying tears of frustration but she decided to find another means of honoring him. She used her Facebook blog, Tales of an Educated Debutante, as a platform to right a wrong. Within a week, she’d raised $35,000 from nearly 2,000 people from around the globe and had a plan in the works to shower Brown with the kudos he deserved.
On March 20, in a surprise ceremony that coincided with Brown and his wife’s 38th wedding anniversary, the Browns’ grown children along with hundreds of well-wishers—including Edenton’s mayor, the chief of police, and Miss North Carolina—were on hand to sing their beloved custodian’s praises and present him with a $35,000 honorarium dubbed “The Famous Amos Award.”
“I was very surprised,” said Mr. Brown, who wore a tuxedo to the event for his photo shoot. “I was caught off guard. To see all those people shouting and hollering ‘Mr. Brown, congratulations,’ it was beautiful and it’s hard to explain, but I know this community loves Mr. Brown.”
White Oak principal Michelle Newsome said “Mr. Brown is really, truly so deserving of all of this and then some,” said Newsome. “He’s our rock steady fella here at White Oak… he’s just a gem and we are so lucky to have him here. There isn’t a child in this building that doesn’t know who Mr. Brown is and that Mr. Brown cares for them and loves them.”