If Kevin Brown, better known as “Buster” or “Bustah” knew you, you were family.
For 20 years, Brown made Fells Point a little safer, a little cleaner and a lot warmer. He didn’t have a formal job, but he took his duties more seriously than many people with a salary and benefits. He patrolled the streets, picked up litter, worked odd jobs at bars, and greeted friends with his signature line, “Hey, family.”
“He was the person who made Fells Point feel like home,” said Alex Snider, who met Brown soon after moving to Baltimore in 2016. “He took ownership over the neighborhood in a way I think more people actually should.”
A cousin, Patricia Brooks, confirmed that Brown was found dead in his West Baltimore home late last month. He was 65. The cause of death was not immediately known, Brooks said.
“He was gentle, really respectful, really intelligent,” said Brooks. “That wasn’t a facade; that’s who he really was.”
But Brown was also an enigma who did things his way. He never had a career or children or got married. He didn’t have an ID or insurance or see the doctor, his cousin said. His two great loves were his mother and Fells Point. He walked to Fells Point each day from his home near Edmondson Village, she said.
Plans for a memorial are not yet complete, but Fells Point residents have planned a community clean-up in his honor on Tuesday, Dec. 12.
“Buster was one of those iconoclasts who is so Baltimore,” said food writer and podcaster John Houser, who first met Brown in Fells Point about 20 years ago. Brown often wore a weightlifter’s belt and walked women, whom he called “queens,” to their cars at night, particularly bartenders.
Chris Harlowe said when he and his husband bought their home on Aliceanna Street, Brown welcomed them to the neighborhood and said he was there to “serve and protect.”
“He would not only make sure that the street was extremely clean, but he would also arrange the trash bins and dispose of any rubbish in front of our house,” Harlowe wrote in an email. “We would always see him in the security cameras, cleaning and sweeping the street without asking for anything in return.”
Many referred to Brown as “the guardian angel of Fells Point,” said Joe Gold, Key Brewing’s general manager. “He’d guide people around the neighborhood.”
Brown had strong opinions about what is “proper,” Snider said. If a man and woman were walking together, he believed the man should walk closest to the street — and would correct couples walking differently. He grew incensed when people littered. He was devoted to the Orioles and Ravens, and was perturbed when bars chose to broadcast the World Cup over an Orioles game in 2022.
“I remember him going on an epic rant about how much he hated soccer,” Snider said. “He called it ‘that kickball shit.’”
Jenn Forbes, a longtime employee of Bertha’s Mussels, which closed this year, recalled Brown popping by each night to see if they needed help taking out trash or lifting heavy objects. “It was like a wellness check,” Forbes said.
One summer morning, Forbes saw Brown lift up a sewer grate on Aliceanna Street and disappear inside. “He lifted out a baby duck and then another and another,” Forbes recalled. Finally, Brown hauled out the mother duck, replaced the sewer grate, stopped traffic and helped the duck family cross Broadway and get into the water, she said.
Brown was deeply devoted his mother, Dorothy Nance, who died last year at the age of 101. “His mother was the No. 1 person in his life,” Forbes said. Each March, around her birthday, he would walk around Fells Point with a card and ask people to sign it.
“When she died, it was like everyone’s mother died,” said Forbes, adding that many Fells Point regulars attended the funeral. Brown never bounced back from losing her. “He would come in and just start crying at the bar,” Forbes said.
Brown had “his demons,” Forbes and others said. He startled easily, perhaps as a result of PTSD. He did not have an ID and was therefore unable to claim an inheritance from his mother, friends said. He would frequent a bar for months or years, but sometimes have a falling out with staff. Most recently, he was attached to Todd Conner’s on South Broadway.
It was current and former bartenders from Todd Conner’s who grew alarmed when Brown didn’t show up after Thanksgiving. One finally went to Brown’s home to check on him; no one answered the door. Police did a wellness check at the home and found his body, according to Brooks, Brown’s cousin and next-of-kin.
Brooks said she is struggling with funeral plans because Brown had no savings or life insurance. She can’t find his Social Security number, and while she knows he spent time in the military, she isn’t sure which branch. “Kevin was really private,” she said.
As those who live, work and hang out in Fells Point shared the news of Brown’s death last week, many remarked that the community would not be the same without him.
“We didn’t always see eye-to-eye,” said Christian Wilkins, the owner of Todd Conner’s. “But no one loved this neighborhood more than him.”