Columnist: “Brownsville” • Dick Hodgetts
You won’t find Brownsville, Ga., on a map; it’s not a town or even a crossroads. Someday a historical marker may be erected to designate that Bobby and Gertrude Brown established three businesses that became multi-generational enterprises on Seven Islands Road, and it should be named: Brownsville. Today those enterprises are operated as Georgia Sleep Shop, Brown Sign Art and Brown Custom Furniture. One family with three very different businesses is a tad unusual.
Bobby Brown manages the Sleep Shop and the mattress factory. At one time, they were producing thousands of mattresses and had crews making products for Horton Homes and various motel chains. In case you have been on a mission in Antarctica, the construction industry today is about as quiet as a cemetery. Bobby’s unique mattress and box springs are now custom-made for clients and several dozen a week are manufactured. Guests at the James Madison and Brady inns often inquire about the wonderful sleep sets used in those prestige Inns and orders are taken from their clients and those who know about the product by word-of-mouth. The Cuddler Ensemble was invented and patented by Bobby and named by his wife, Gertrude. The Sign Shop is run by son, Steve, while the custom furniture business is operated by Randy Brown.
The foundation for this activity was the marriage between Bobby Brown and Gertrude Moon. For 60 years they relied on one another through challenging times, business start-ups, personal tragedy, the joy of growing a family, great prosperity, and always, always with a strong faith. Their story reflects well on the values found in America and Morgan County. Today, Bobby continues the Sleep Shop and Gertrude is in his thoughts. We lost her in 2009, but her legacy continues.
Bobby came from a family of sharecroppers. They moved to Morgan County in the Depression when Theresa Newton needed families to farm her acreage. Bobby did not graduate from high school but eventually earned a PhD in entrepreneurship. His was a family so poor that he went without shoes in the snowy winters of the 1930s. But, "hardscrabble" was his middle name and when everyone else is poor you don’t think of yourself in those terms. He met Gertrude just prior to her graduation from Morgan County High School and gave her an engagement ring. He worked in all types of jobs: furniture factory, aluminum fabrication, upholstery shops and more. They rededicated themselves to their faith early in their marriage and have been active in prayer groups and churches over the years.
At a prayer meeting attended by Dudley Horton, the Browns established a client relationship that became a key to their future. Mr. Horton was making mobile homes and needed mattresses. Bobby had just established a mattress factory and was seeking clients. Eventually, a patent was issued for their unique sleep sets and they were on their way to the American dream. Thousands of sets were built and shipped from the Seven Islands Road facility. The business was so good that they expanded.
One night a neighbor heard a loud bang and the next thing anyone knew the entire factory was engulfed in flames from a heater explosion. It took months to recover. But, the reputation of Georgia Sleep Shop and the great prices they offered had established a loyal clientele that returned.
Just when it looks like you are on top of the world, life has a way to remind you how fragile it can be. Gertrude was diagnosed with acute melanoma and, after a lengthy hospital stay, aggressive chemotherapy, and evaluations by teams of doctors they were given the news: “You have just three months to live.” She was so weak she could not sit up. She wakes up one night in the hospital and tells Bobby, “The Lord has appeared to me and told me I am cured.” She was assisted to her feet, left the hospital and continued her active life for another 15 years. I have talked to doctors and they simply say it is one of those unexplained miracles that may occur in people of great faith.
When I inquired of repeat business, and if he was contacting clients from 10 years ago, his comment: “No, the sleep sets last way longer than that.” Maybe that is why word-of-mouth keeps Georgia Sleep Shop perking along. Janet Mason says four generations of her family have slept on mattresses from Georgia Sleep Shop and they anticipate the tradition will continue.
When some historical committee evaluates where future markers are placed, surely they will consider “Brownsville.” I hope they will not only mention the generations of Browns who created jobs and businesses there, but they will highlight the faith and perseverance so key to their success. Otherwise the story of Bobby and Gertrude Brown and their family might appear to be the result of "good luck" or they were more "fortunate" than others as our political leaders say today. Nope, they believed in themselves and a greater power, and the importance of family. We just don’t seem to put the word “faith,” “family” or “perseverance” on historical markers. Silly us.
Printed in the September 1, 2011 edition.