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State Rep. Cloria Brown dies after battle with cancer

State Rep. Cloria Brown
File photo I Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
State Rep. Cloria Brown recording an episode of "Politically Speaking" in 2015. She died of cancer on March 18, 2018.

By her own admission, Cloria Brown didn’t expect to get involved in Missouri politics. But after a highly successful business career, Brown felt it was the right time to give back to her community in south St. Louis County.

“I never had any political ambitions,” Brown said during a 2015 edition of Politically Speaking.“But I didn’t want the job to just be given to someone. And I thought I represented the area pretty well. I was doing service, and I said, 'This is another way to serve.’”

Many of Brown’s colleagues are glad she made the leap to the Missouri General Assembly. The GOP representative died at the age of 75 on Sunday evening of cancer, according to an email sent to members of the House by her legislative aide.

“No one took their job more seriously than Cloria,” said Senate President Pro Tem Ron Richard in a statement Monday. “If there was a community event, she was there to offer a helping hand. We will always remember her kind presence and the dedication she had towards her job as a representative, and her community.”

Born in Arkansas, Brown moved to St. Louis as a child and graduated from McKinley High School. After working her way through several jobs, the Washington University graduate eventually became vice president of information systems for MasterCard International. She was one of the few women to be a leader in the male-dominated field.

“I started as a programmer,” Brown said in 2015. “I did all the normal things, which is go programmer, systems analyst, project leader, manager, director, vice president. I was a woman in a man’s world. In the early days, I’d walk into a room and they’d [think] I was bringing the coffee. And later, even as a vice president, most of the people who worked for me were men.”

After retiring, Brown launched in 2008 what would be her first of five straight campaigns against Democrat Vicki Englund. For four election cycles, Englund would prevail in presidential election years (2008 and 2012), while Brown would win in midterm election contests (2010 and 2014).

Brown said it wasn’t much of a secret why the south St. Louis County seat kept flipping between herself and Englund: “More Democrats come out to vote in the presidential [years] than the non-presidential years.”

Ultimately though, Brown ended up defeating Englund by a narrow margin in 2016.

During her tenure in the Missouri House, Brown served on the powerful House Budget Committee. For a number of years, she sponsored legislation that would bar drivers in most instances from texting while driving. She also supported right-to-work legislation, which bars unions and employers from requiring workers to pay dues. Brown backed that billeven though organized labor is a powerful force in south St. Louis County politics.

But Brown’s key legislative achievement is anti-human trafficking legislation that she worked on for several years. It would require that posters with a national human-trafficking hotline number be displayed at airports, train and bus stations, strip clubs and any business with prior citations for prostitution.

During debate over the bill earlier this year, Sen. Scott Sifton noted that “for anybody who’s been involved in South County, or in Lemay, or in civic pursuits over these many years, it really seems to us that Rep. Brown has been seemingly everywhere and involved in seemingly everything.”

Sifton, D-Affton, posted on his Facebook page on Monday that he was “grateful for [Brown’s] friendship and service.”

Other lawmakers also spent part of Monday mourning Brown’s death. State Rep. Shamed Dogan, R-Ballwin, called Brown “one of the hardest-working, wisest, and most respected people in#moleg.” And state Rep. Kathie Conway, R-St. Charles, said that Brown was one of the “sweetest, most dedicated, tenacious and lovely souls I have had the pleasure to have known.”

“Praying for God’s supernatural peace and love for our dear friend Cloria Brown’s family in this painful time,” said state Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston. “She was a genuine lady of grit and grace who made a positive impact in her district and our state. It was an honor to call her friend; she will be greatly missed.”

Brown is survived by her husband Frank and her daughter Cathy. Funeral arrangements are pending.

Follow Jason on Twitter: @jrosenbaum

Jason is the politics correspondent for St. Louis Public Radio.