Brown-Forman Corporation mourns the loss of W.L. Lyons Brown Jr., retired chair of the board and chief executive officer, who passed away on June 9. Brown, a fourth-generation Brown family member, was the great-grandson of the Company’s founder, George Garvin Brown.


“We are deeply saddened by the passing of our esteemed former leader Lee Brown. His visionary leadership and commitment to our international expansion and long-term growth helped shape Brown-Forman into the global company it is today. His legacy will long be remembered and celebrated,” said Brown-Forman Chief Executive Officer and President Lawson Whiting.


Brown began his career at Brown-Forman in 1960 as a sales representative in its international division. During more than three decades at the company, he led Brown-Forman through a period of diversification and was instrumental in launching the company’s export division. Brown steered the company from annual sales of $365 million to $1.7 billion.


He became executive vice president and director of worldwide marketing in 1972 and, three years later, was elected CEO and president. In 1983, Brown became chair of the Board of Directors and CEO. He completed his tenure as chair in 1995 and as a member of the board in 1996.


Brown was also known for his deep knowledge and passion for global trade, serving as an international trade advisor to several U.S. Presidents. He was appointed by President Ronald Reagan, reappointed by former Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to the President’s Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations, serving from 1987 to 1994. In 2001, President George W. Bush appointed Brown as the U.S. Ambassador to Austria.


“Lee was a giant in the spirits industry and a champion for the family business. For many of us in the Brown family’s fifth generation, he was the first company leader that many of us knew,” said Campbell Brown, chair, Brown-Forman Board of Directors. “He was a person of remarkable vision and unparalleled dedication and we are grateful for his leadership. His accomplishments beyond the company remind all of us that the ideas of service and responsibility live far beyond what we leave behind as employees and shareholders of Brown-Forman.”


A Kentucky native, Brown graduated from the University of Virginia and received a B.S. from the American Graduate School of International Management, now known as the Thunderbird School of Global Management.


He is survived by his wife of 65 years, Alice Cary Farmer, his sister, Ina Bond, his three children, Lyons III (Susanna), their three children, Renee Carpenter (Douglas), Caroline Fries (Willis) and George; Cary Epstein (Steve), their son Sam; Stuart (Joanna), their four children Stuart Jr., Keeling (Holly), Clara, and Lyons and two great-grandsons, Read Lyons Fries and Cato Douglas Glover Carpenter III.