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CRIME AND THE ELDERLY OF L.A. : Violence in the Autumn of Life : HARRY BROWN : 'The Most Wonderful, Gentle Person'

October 24, 1994|JOHN HURST | Times Staff Writer

Delores Lyon had been a widow for three years when she met Harry Rainford Brown at a senior citizens dance. "Gentlemen would ask me to dance," the 66-year-old woman said, "but I wouldn't go out with them."

When Lyon met Brown on that night three years ago, however, she was immediately smitten. The tanned, debonair man of 81 was an accomplished dancer and had a smile that opened her heart. The pair were soon engaged.

Brown, a retired ink salesman and a widower from Whittier, led an active life of golf, shooting pool, painting pictures, swimming with his grandchildren and traveling. He and his fiancee danced and traveled the world: New Zealand, Thailand, Japan, the British Isles and Italy.

"It was like God had sent him," Lyon said.

A year ago this month, Brown and Lyon attended a performance of "Evita" at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre. The event was an AIDS benefit, so Brown was wearing a small red ribbon on his lapel when the couple set off for an after-theater reception on Wilshire Boulevard.

After parking on a side street, the couple got out of the car. When Lyon looked down the street, she saw two young men coming their way. There was something about their walk and the way they scanned the street that worried her.

"I looked back and said, 'Harry, let's hurry,' " Lyon recalled. "I said, 'They're coming fast, let's get going.' "

A younger, quicker couple may have reached the relative safety of busy Wilshire. But Brown and Lyon were not young, nor were they fast. Brown was hampered by a bad knee.

Lyon had crossed the street and was shouting for help when one of the young men reached her.

"If you don't stop screaming, you're going to get this," he warned, displaying what looked like a switchblade. Lyon fainted but was quickly roused by the sound of gunshots.

"I thought, 'Oh, it's so quiet,' and I heard, 'Bang-bang-bang.' And I said, 'No, not Harry.' "

Harry Brown was shot three times--in the abdomen, the shoulder and the wrist. He died nine days later in the hospital.

The robbers stole Lyon's purse containing $35 and credit cards; they took nothing from Brown.

"I guess the true outrage," said Brown's son, Skip, "is that they were not allowed to live their life in peace. He paid his dues and he got it taken away from him."

Twice widowed, Delores Lyon is trying to go on with her life. But she isn't yet sure how.

"He was," she said, "the most wonderful, gentle person in the whole world."

There are no suspects in the murder.

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