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Retired AT&T Chairman Dies

Charles L. Brown, Chairman and CEO of AT&T from 1979-1986 has died at 82

November 14, 2003

3 Min Read

RICHMOND, Va. –- Charles L. Brown, the courtly Virginian who headed one of the largest corporations in United States history and then agreed to the historic 1984 breakup of the former “Bell System,” died here today after a lengthy illness. He was 82 and had lived in Princeton, N.J., since 1975.

Before retiring in August 1986, Mr. Brown had been chairman and CEO of the former American Telephone & Telegraph Company for seven of his 40 years with the company. In 1982, Mr. Brown made the decision to divest all of the Bell Telephone Companies as a means of settling antitrust litigation with the Federal government. His action produced the largest corporate reorganization in history. He also led AT&T’s initial efforts to establish business units and partnerships in Europe and Asia.

The January 1, 1984, “divestiture” of AT&T unleashed a wave of deregulation and market competition that continues today in customers’ ability to choose their telephone equipment and services. At the time of the breakup, AT&T had some 975,000 employees. The company formally changed its name to AT&T Corporation in 1994.

Until the breakup, AT&T had consisted of the Bell System’s vertically integrated telephone research and equipment-manufacturing units, its local telephone operating companies – which provided most of the nation’s local telephone service – as well as its long-distance operations and other services.

The local telephone spinoffs are known today as BellSouth Corporation, Qwest Communications International, SBC Corporation and Verizon Communications Inc. In 1996, AT&T divested its equipment-manufacturing operations into Lucent Technologies, which subsequently spun off Avaya Inc. and Agere Systems Inc.

Mr. Brown was born in Richmond on August 23, 1921. He graduated from the University of Virginia in 1943 with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. He then entered the U.S. Navy, and served in the Pacific theatre of World War II aboard the battleship U.S.S. Mississippi. He was discharged in 1946 with the rank of lieutenant.

Upon leaving military service, he joined the AT&T Long Lines department in Hartford, Conn. He progressed rapidly through a series of management positions of increasing responsibility, becoming vice president and general manager of Illinois Bell in 1963; six years later, he was elected CEO of that company. He became executive vice president of AT&T in 1974; vice chairman of the board and chief financial officer of AT&T in 1976; president of AT&T in 1977, and chairman of the board in 1979.

During and following his AT&T career Mr. Brown served on the boards of directors of many corporations, including E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., Metropolitan Life, Delta Airlines, Chemical Bank, General Foods, Hart Schaffner & Marx and Ryder Systems.

He also served on the Board of the Public Broadcasting System and The Institute for Advanced Study and was a Trustee of the Aspen Institute and chairman of the board of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation. He was a member of the board of visitors at the University of Virginia and a trustee of the University of Chicago, Loyola University in Chicago and Lake Forest College in Lake Forest, Ill.

He was also a member of the Business Council, the Business Roundtable and numerous nonprofit organizations, including the Boy Scouts of America, YMCA, Travelers Aid Society and the National Parks Foundation.

Mr. Brown held honorary doctorates conferred by Colgate University, Princeton University, Amherst College, Northwestern University and Pace University. He was also a trustee of the Presbyterian Hospital in New York City.

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