Growing up as the daughter of an Army general, Sally Brown called many places home, falling in love with the Earth’s diverse landscapes and species along the way. In 1935 she set down roots in Kentucky to raise four children with husband W. L. Lyons Brown, chairman of the Brown-Forman Corporation, one of the nation’s largest distilleries. That’s when she discovered the natural beauty of the Bluegrass state, especially the Kentucky River Palisades.
"I had never seen anything like those gorgeous rocks," Brown said after seeing the landscape’s 450-million-year-old limestone cliffs for the first time. She became determined to protect them.
Over many years, Brown doggedly raised money to purchase and preserve a part of the Kentucky Palisades landscape. In addition to her own generous contributions towards this goal, support came from the W.L. Lyons Foundation, her daughter Ina Brown Bond, Lexington horseman and financier W.T. Young, the Randleigh Foundation, the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, and Lexington-based horse breeder and conservationist, Helen Alexander.
In the midst of pursuing her goal to protect the Palisades, Brown discovered The Nature Conservancy, eventually becoming a member of the its national Board of Governors and later, a founding member of The Nature Conservancy of Kentucky in 1975. Her passion and persistent fundraising combined with the Conservancy’s expertise in acquiring conservation lands resulted in the establishment of the 632-acre Sally Brown Nature Preserve. This accomplishment, together with years of dedicated service and support, earned Brown the Conservancy’s Oak Leaf Award, an honor bestowed once every two or three years to an individual whose volunteer efforts contribute significantly to the cause of conservation.
“Sally Brown didn’t discover the Kentucky Palisades landscape, but she was among the first in modern times to recognize its importance when she first visited in 1959,” says Jim Aldrich, former state director and current director of stream and wetland restoration for the Conservancy. “The Conservancy is honored to have been one of her many benefactors and is proud to preserve her legacy through the preserve carrying her name.”
Today the Sally Brown Nature Preserve, tucked into a river bend in Garrard County, continues to dazzle visitors with its towering cliffs; distinctive forest of beech, tulip tree and white oak; a spectacular collection of wildflowers; and, rich array of wildlife. It serves as a valuable legacy for her family and for the rest of us who call Kentucky home.
Before passing away in April 2011 at the age of 100, Sally Brown dedicated the good part of a century to preserving the Earth and its creatures. It was a responsibility she took seriously, as was prominently highlighted on her resume among many accomplishments: Preserver and Protector of Air, Water and Land for Many.