Christy Brown thought he had done a pretty good job of lobbying members of the Rex selection committee for the candidate he thought would make the perfect monarch on Fat Tuesday in 2015.
But when discussion began and someone called for a paper ballot, he knew his choice was in trouble.
“Turns out, mine was the only dissenting vote,” he recalled. “Everyone else voted for me! I wasn’t expecting to be Rex.”
But Rex he is, and on Mardi Gras, Brown will take his place in a long line of rulers who have shouldered Rex’s mantle and carried his glittering scepter through the streets of New Orleans.
To Brown — born Christian and nicknamed Christy as a boy by his grandmother — there could be no greater honor than to represent the organization whose motto is “pro bono publico,” or “for the public good.”
“I think what makes me the most proud is the work our group has done in the community since Hurricane Katrina, through the Pro Bono Publico Foundation,” said Brown, a 25-year member of Rex. “All the money we have raised from members has gone to support groups that are furthering the agenda of providing excellent education to our schoolchildren. That’s the key, I feel, to ensuring the city’s future.”
Since its inception in 2006, the Pro Bono Publico Foundation has invested $3.4 million in nonprofit groups devoted to public school reform and the charter school movement.
But Brown’s civic investment in the community goes even deeper.
As a member of the Executive Committee of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, he lends a hand to vital work of the GNOF in the community, funding nonprofits and shepherding new initiatives.
As owner and director of NOLA Holdings LLC, a private equity company, Brown has put both his law degree from Tulane University and his inborn business acumen to work, investing in and growing businesses.
“When I started out, the company was largely Louisiana-centric, but it’s expanded to become regional since,” he said. He said he believes strongly that the local and regional economies are on the upswing and well-positioned to continue growing.
“For so long, we were losing our children after they went away to college. They would leave the city because there was nothing appealing here careerwise to bring them back,” he said. “But it’s different now. Not only are we managing to get our own kids back, but we’re attracting young people from all over. Whenever you get a lot of young people together in one place, amazing things can happen.”
Brown points to the resurgence of Oretha Castle Haley Boulevard as an example of the rebirth of the city’s commercial corridors since Hurricane Katrina.
“What’s happening there now is happening in other clusters around the city and stimulating opportunities that weren’t here before the storm,” he said. “It’s a silver lining to the terrible tragedy our people experienced, and I wonder if any other place could have rebounded the way we have.”
Brown believes it’s the sense of community and responsibility to one another that impelled neighbors to help one another rebuild after the disaster.
“It doesn’t matter who you talk to in New Orleans: If you talk long enough, you’ll find you’re connected somehow,” he said.
Brown’s personal connections to the area’s cultural identity are deeply rooted in two food products New Orleanians grew up with: Tabasco and Brown’s Dairy milk.
“My great-great-grandfather on the McIlhenny side started the (Tabasco) business on Avery Island with a handful of pepper seeds,” he said. “Every year, we harvest the seeds from the previous year’s crop and plant them to ensure that all of the peppers are descendants of the original seeds he planted. We grow peppers in 10 nations now, and all of them are grown from seed sourced at Avery Island.”
Brown’s McIlhenny ancestor was a conservationist, providing a sanctuary where then-endangered snowy egrets could rebound. It’s another passion that Brown inherited: He serves as chairman of the Board of Advisers of Audubon Louisiana, the statewide chapter of the National Audubon Society.
Like many Louisianians, Brown is a sportsman, a pastime he enjoys with his wife, Kia Silverman Brown.
“I’m not much of a shot, but I’m not a bad bird dog,” Kia Brown joked.
The couple also enjoys cooking meals together.
“How can you be from here and not love to eat?” Christy Brown asked. “Kia and I like to talk a lot while we’re cooking, and it’s a great way to catch up at the end of the day. We value the time we get to spend together in the kitchen.”
That time, however, will be in short supply over the next few days.
On Monday evening, Rex will toast the Zulu king at the foot of Canal Street during the city’s Lundi Gras celebration.
And on Tuesday morning, he and his pages will board the royal float for a long day of greeting crowds and toasting loyal subjects that won’t end until after the meeting of the courts of Rex and Comus that night.
But the couple has a plan to make up for lost time once the party is over.
“Kia and I will be traveling with our family to our home at Avery Island,” Brown said, “where we will decompress, enjoy the outdoors and eat a lot of crawfish.”