Parks and recreation director gets big send-off after 30.5-year career with Sarasota County Government

Carolyn Brown to join staff of Town of Longboat Key next week

County leaders on Oct. 10 congratulate the Sarasota County Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department for earning national accreditation. Outgoing department Director Carolyn Brown holds the framed certificate. Photo courtesy Sarasota County

After — as she put it — “30.5 years” in the employment of Sarasota County, Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources (PRNR) Director Carolyn Brown marked her final day with the county on Oct. 10.

County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and the County Commission not only bade a formal farewell to Brown that day, but Lewis also took the opportunity during the County Commission meeting to praise Brown and her staff for the PRNR Department’s winning national accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA).

Twice, Lewis called the latter accomplishment “a really big deal,” pointing out that only 22 other agencies in Florida have won that recognition. Additionally, he said, only about 166 nationwide have earned it.

Because an agency has to meet 151 standards, Lewis pointed out, “it’s very normal” for the agency to be reviewed more than once. “It’s very rare that they would pass all 151 standards the first time around.”

Yet, that is exactly what Brown and her staff in the PRNR Department did, Lewis added. “For us here in Sarasota,” he said, “the Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department really is the crème do la crème.”

“It truly was a team effort,” Brown responded. Her staff members, she added, “are just so dedicated and so talented.” Moreover, Brown said, “Our department is in a much better place. We learned and grew a lot through the process.”

Then Lewis told the audience in the mostly full Commission Chambers in downtown Sarasota that he and his colleagues on staff are “also a little sad” because of Brown’s retirement.

Her first job with the county, he continued of Brown, was with a community center in Englewood. She made her way up the ranks to run the PRNR Department, which is responsible for about 160 parks throughout the county, translating into “constant community engagement,” he noted.

Carolyn Brown addresses the County Commission in January 2016. News Leader photo

When Lewis gave Brown the microphone, she said, “I have a lot to say, and normally, I don’t.”

Brown began with a statement she has used often in past years. “‘It all starts in the parks.’ That’s a saying we have in our department.”

“It’s been an incredible journey,” she continued, “and I have been blessed in so many ways.”

She pointed out that she has learned numerous acronyms related to her work, such as MPO, WCIND, ITN, plus “one that I’ll be using a lot in the future, of course — LBK.”

That remark elicited laughter.

On Oct. 29, Brown officially will become the director of support services for the Town of Longboat Key, Susan Phillips, assistant to the town manager, told The Sarasota News Leader.

In years past, Phillips explained, the town had both an administrative services director and an assistant town manager. The position Brown is taking “takes care of some of that void,” Phillips pointed out.

Brown will be overseeing human resources, the town’s procurement section and the Tennis Center, Phillips said. “We’re very excited to have her join us.”

Among the other things she has learned, Brown told the attendees at the Oct. 10 County Commission meeting, is that “there’s only 24 hours in a day, no matter how early you get up in the morning.”

She also thanked her “outstanding mentors,” including former Parks and Recreation Department Director Walt Rothenbach, who retired in 2003, and her immediate predecessor, John McCarthy.

Additionally, she extended her appreciation to all the “Friends” groups with which she worked professionally, including the support organizations for individual parks and The Legacy Trail.

Finally, she thanked her “dedicated and talented team” and pointed out that the PRNR staff members had taught her “to have an incredible reverence for nature.”

After the audience gave Brown a standing ovation, Commission Chair Nancy Detert said, “I think we all want to live a life that matters …” Turning to Brown, Detert added, “Your fingerprints are everywhere in this community. … I’m sorry that you’re being stolen.”

Detert then wished Brown “Good luck” in her new endeavor.

1 thought on “Parks and recreation director gets big send-off after 30.5-year career with Sarasota County Government”

  1. Carolyn Brown is awesome. A true friend to parks, people and the public at large. We are grateful for Carolyn’s support of the Sarasota Audubon Society’s over all the years. We will miss you, but wish you well in your new endeavor. The Town of Longboat Key is very lucky. Sincerely, the SAS board.

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