Brown keeps his Dancing with the Stars shirt handy on the back of his office door. Photo by Bill Cardoni

James Brown, University Locksmith

By Christopher Hann

I go back to when we made skeleton keys on campus. A skeleton key is the old key with the ornamental head, like what you see in Dark Shadows. There are a couple of doors that still have that type of lock.

It’s essentially 60 buildings, with somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 locks.

I’ve had student helpers through the course of all this. The first thing I teach them is how to recore the door lock and how to make keys. Drew’s policy is that if you lose your key, we have to change the lock.

I get calls when kids get locked out of their room—or locked in their room. In the evenings I try to talk the maintenance guys through it. You’re on call quite a bit.

I remember the morning of the Mead Hall fire, August of 1989. My window faced Mead Hall. That morning everybody was saying that they smelled smoke. It was like 6:30, 7:00 in the morning. All of a sudden I just looked over at Mead Hall and the whole roof section, flames were shooting out. It was surreal because just everything started to come together—the smell of smoke, seeing flames and the sirens going off. It was really a sad, sad day.

In 2007 they had Dancing with the Stars, which included students and faculty and staff. We didn’t want to compete with the students. That would have been ridiculous—geriatric dancing as opposed to hip-hop!

I happened to be chosen with Pam Gunter-Smith, who is the provost on campus. We had a coach, so at 6:30 in the morning we would get together before we’d go to work. We did that for two, three months. So the night of the show we got up there, and we won. We did the Hustle. My shirt was gold-sequined. It looked like something Liberace would wear.

I keep one key for my car in my wallet, and I keep a whole set for my house in my car. So if I lose my keys, I can go to my wallet. That’s how I always tell people to do it. If you lock yourself out, you get your wallet out, get that key and you’re ready to roll.

One Response to “BackTalk”

  1. says:

    James was one of my best friends when I was a Drew University, class of 1976. I took great rides around the campus on his go cart. He was so kind and helpful. I have fond memories of him. We kept in touch over the year. Through my stay in law school and my adventures in Switzerland and Africa. lately, we have lost touch. I am in Ethiopia on a sabbatical doing research on food security and with my charity, ethiopianchildren’s appeal and just decided to read my Drew magazine. Please give James’s my email and my find regards. Jo Butler

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