After starring in three sports at Winthrop High School and pitching for three teams in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League that was featured in the 1992 movie “A League of Their Own,” Patricia Brown thought it was time for a college education.
“I had been supporting family,” she recalled in a 1991 interview for the Suffolk University Oral History Project, adding that “from playing ball, I didn’t have that much money saved, and so it seemed like I was never getting anywhere, never getting to go to college or anything.”
She met with a Suffolk official who arranged for a scholarship, and that was the beginning of her 41 years at Suffolk, which included time as a student and as founder and player-coach of the women’s basketball team.
“I most admired her tenacity, her ability to overcome the odds throughout her entire life, and her compassion for others,” said her nephew Alan of Glenview, Ill., whom Ms. Brown raised in Winthrop.
Ms. Brown, who also wrote “A League of My Own,” a 2003 book about the All-American league, died of cancer June 17 in the Sunrise assisted living center in Glenview. She was 81 and previously lived in Winthrop.
“I feel like I have finally pitched my no-hit game,” Ms. Brown said after writing her baseball memoir.
During most of her years at Suffolk, Ms. Brown was an associate law librarian. Last year, she was inducted into the university’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
In 1988, she and other players in the All-American league were recognized by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for their contributions, and in 1997, Ms. Brown was an inaugural inductee in the Winthrop High Athletic Hall of Fame.
Suffolk honored her pioneering effort on behalf of the women’s basketball team at the dedication of the school’s new gymnasium in 1990. That same year she was recognized at the State House for outstanding service to women’s sports, and threw out the first pitch for a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.
“When she was inducted at Cooperstown, Pat and other players from the league met Penny Marshall, who was director of ‘A League of Their Own,’ and they all helped her in her research,” her nephew said. “I think that weekend was the highlight of her life, among many cherished highlights.”
Ms. Brown’s trove of memorabilia included an autographed baseball from Red Sox great Ted Williams and a photo of her with Red Sox catcher Tony Pena on her day at Fenway, which was arranged by team general manager Lou Gorman. She also kept items from her days on the mound with the Kenosha Comets, Chicago Colleens, and the Battle Creek Belles.
According to her wishes, most of her collection, which she brought to Illinois last year, will be donated to Cooperstown, the All-American Girls League archives, Suffolk University, and other venues.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, organized by Chicago Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley, operated from 1943-54.
Growing up in Winthrop, Ms. Brown played sandlot ball with her brothers and their friends.
“I played with them from the time I was 6 to age 14,” Ms. Brown, who never married, told the Globe in 1991.
She tried out for the All-American League in New Jersey in 1949, but “was told to go home and get more experience,” she recalled. In winter 1950, she tried out again in Everett and was one of six players signed from among some 700 hopefuls.
“I got their attention by throwing the ball as hard as possible and stinging the guy’s hand so much that he dropped his glove,” she said.
For a Sports Museum of New England exhibit that opened in 1993, Ms. Brown provided league photos, spikes, gloves, uniforms, contracts, and other artifacts.
“Thirty years before Title IX, Pat was carrying the torch for women in athletics,” said museum curator Richard Johnson. “Pat and her friends from the All-American League were like family and she was at the head table. I truly believe she felt she owed it to the women she played with to tell their story. She never made a big deal about what she did. She just went out and did it.”
Ms. Brown, who retired as a law librarian at Suffolk in 1992, was as “helpful as anyone could be and as self-effacing as she was a great athlete,’’ said Herb Lemelman, a professor and former associate dean at Suffolk University Law School. “She was like a sister to many of us at Suffolk. Pat never talked in the first person. She was more interested in what was going on in your life.”
A 1948 graduate of Winthrop High, she received three degrees from Suffolk. Ms. Brown graduated in 1955 with a bachelor’s in education, in 1970 with a master’s in business administration, and in 1965 from the law school.
Ms. Brown also graduated in 1977 from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton with a master’s in theological studies.
She also helped a fellow Winthrop resident write his memoirs of his time as an airman and prisoner of war in World War II.
“She was only too happy to share her writing and editing skills,” her nephew said. “That was typical of Pat, always willing to lend a helping hand.”
In addition to her writing, Ms. Brown filled her retirement years by staying involved with Union Congregational Church in Winthrop, where she was a lifelong member; working for the Winthrop Council on Aging, and volunteering with the SHINE Program at the Winthrop Senior Center.
A funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. Friday in Caggiano Funeral Home in Winthrop. Burial will be in Winthrop Cemetery.
“She really was Miss Suffolk because of her longevity here and her service to the university,” said Jim Nelson, Suffolk’s athletic director, who visited Ms. Brown’s Winthrop home last year before the school’s Hall of Fame ceremonies. “I was just overwhelmed at her collection of memorabilia. Pat was proud of her contributions and truly dedicated to her profession.”