Violettee V. Brown, F.SWE

Entrepreneur, author, SWE past president, and role model

Violettee V. (Vi) Brown, a Society of Women Engineers Fellow, past president, and senior life member, died on February 9, 2024.

Brown grew up in South Carolina and attended Howard University, where she earned a B.S. in chemical engineering and an M.S. in engineering. She then earned an MBA with an emphasis on finance and strategy from Arizona State University.

She began her career as a process engineer at Procter & Gamble. During her long and varied career, she worked for Motorola, the Maricopa County (Arizona) government, Pacific Gas & Electric, and CH2M Hill, taking roles as diverse as principal staff engineer, division manager, director of environmental policy, project manager, and process engineer.

Brown managed construction projects worth up to $200 million with annual operating budgets of $4.5 million and worked on an oil refinery modernization project and a Superfund remediation effort. She held senior management positions with profit and loss responsibilities and worked in finance, program development, and contract negotiations. As an adjunct professor at the California National University for Advanced Studies, she taught courses in calculus, water quality analysis, and solid waste management.

Brown was well-regarded for her integrity, dependability, leadership skills, and friendliness. She mentored students of all ages in STEM-related programs and sought to elevate women in STEM beyond entry-level positions.

Brown first joined SWE in 1978 as an early member of the Howard University Collegiate Section. She was active in the Phoenix Section in the 1990s and served as section president in fiscal year 1996. She was a member of the Society’s board of directors for seven years, beginning as Region B director (FY99 and FY00), and serving as national secretary (FY01 and FY02) and vice president-transition (FY03). She was elected SWE president for FY05.

Frequently asked to speak at SWE events and other occasions, Brown presented on such topics as technical and business issues, diversity and inclusion, innovation, and entrepreneurial practices. In 2001 she founded Vi Brown Speaks, a speaking engagement firm, and in 2003 she launched Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, a business and engineering consulting firm, in Phoenix.

She received numerous awards, including the City of Mesa (Arizona) Inaugural Innovative Water Conservation Award. She was a fellow of the Institute for the Advancement of Engineering and a member of the Air & Waste Management Association, a life member of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, and a member of the Howard University Alumni Association and Sor-optimist International of the Americas.

Brown was also a prodigious writer, publishing articles in SWE Magazine; NSBE Magazine, published by the National Society of Black Engineers; and CEP Magazine, formerly Chemical Engineering Progress, published by the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. She contributed to the book Whoo Influenced You?: Three Relationships That Transformed My Life by George C. Fraser, Ph.D., and Stan Matthews.

In 2003, as part of the Society’s recognition of Black History Month, Brown published an article in the SWE Magazine winter issue titled “A Segregation of Memory: The 1921 Tulsa Race Riots.” The article described the segregated, thriving Greenwood neighborhood of Tulsa, Oklahoma, known as Black Wall Street, and its utter destruction at the hands of white rioters and city government after a false report of an assault on a white woman by a Black man. In March 2022 Brown joined Anne Perusek, then-SWE director of editorial and publications, on the SWE podcast Diverse to share how she learned of this important but often forgotten piece of American history and the impact the riots had on generations of Tulsa residents. “Tulsa was not the first city that experienced this, but it was perhaps one of the worst examples that occurred because of unrest [that arose] because of the differences between the races or ethnic groups,” Brown told Perusek.

Brown enjoyed spending time with family and friends, traveling, and riding Harley-Davidson motorcycles.

— Laurie A. Shuster, SWE Editor-in-Chief