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Family: Elephant trample victim was fearless mom

May 2, 2009 photo released by her family

May 2, 2009 photo released by her family of Sharon Brown 38, holding her baby Margaux. Credit: AP Photo

Sharon Brown got the travel bug early and filled her life with the world - working and wandering in places like Kenya, Uganda, Egypt, Thailand and Bangladesh.

The former Peace Corps volunteer, who died along with her baby girl Monday after being charged by an elephant in Kenya, where they lived, took things in stride throughout life.

>> PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of Sharon Brown, her baby and the scene in Kenya

When the passenger ship Brown and her husband chose for a South American vacation sank in the middle of an Amazon tributary, they swam to shore and waited days for a freighter to rescue them.

"She barely missed a beat," Brown's father, John Laurie, recalled Wednesday in a telephone interview. "The only reason she called me was she didn't have a plane ticket back."

A devastated Laurie now must make funeral arrangements for his fearless daughter, who died at age 39 along with her daughter, Margaux, 1, while on a guided nature walk.

On View Drive in Miller Place, where she was raised as Sharon Laurie, neighbors remembered her as a quiet, contemplative kid whose goal was to help foreigners better understand Americans and American culture.

John Gallagher, a neighbor and a former Suffolk County police commissioner, remembered Sharon as an aficionado of exotic places. Gallagher said when he saw her this summer, she told him living abroad was "no different than living here."

Gallagher said Brown told him Kenyans were curious about American culture and that she felt she could "contribute to their understanding of America."

"To have this happen, this is so terrible," he said.

Dan Powers, another neighbor, said he has known the family for nearly 40 years and last saw Brown when she visited Long Island a year or two ago. He called her "a beautiful, giving person."

Graduation from Miller Place High School provided a turning point for Brown.

"After high school, she said, 'Use my room however you want,' " Laurie said. "She knew she wasn't going to be hanging around Miller Place."

Brown earned a psychology degree from Binghamton University and a graduate degree in library science from the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University. She did stints as a research librarian for a Manhattan bank and for Antioch University in Keene, N.H.

Brown's travels abroad and work for the Peace Corps took her far from Long Island. She did Peace Corps tours in Bangladesh and Uganda, where she worked in a school that taught teachers.

Given Brown's penchant for staying on the move, her father said: "She's a woman that I've already said a lot of goodbyes to."

After marrying her husband, Jeff, who Laurie said was from upstate New York, Kenya caught Brown's eye.

Husband and wife both arranged jobs at the International School of Kenya and had lived there for almost four years. She was working as a librarian at the school and teaching a journalism course.

Laurie said his granddaughter was born in Kenya a little more a year ago. Laurie also has a son, Glenn, 43, who lives upstate.

The couple were vacationing when the elephant attacked, Laurie said. "They were with Jeff's brother and his wife. Part of what you do when you visit [the Browns] there, is going on a mini-safari. I think it was more like a nature walk."

Reflecting on his daughter's full life, Laurie said: "She couldn't be a better daughter. She's still my favorite girl."

>> PHOTOS: Click here to see photos of Sharon Brown, her baby and the scene in Kenya


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