The abrupt reminders are always there, from the bold queries of passersby (“Are you Juditha?” the woman from Pennsylvania asks as they dine in the same cafe) to the garish photos on the covers of supermarket tabloids.
The lives of Juditha Brown, 65, and Lou Brown, 72, are filled with reminders of the murders two years ago Wednesday that took the lives of their daughter, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend, Ronald Lyle Goldman.
When Juditha plans to take Nicole’s children, Sydney, 10, and Justin, 7, shopping at Target, she calls the store an hour beforehand to let management know they are coming.
“That gives them time to take the tabloids off the stands,” she says, “so the children can have fun, shop without seeing those pictures of their mother.”
The change in the lives of the Browns has been overwhelming. Their daughter is gone. And, despite O.J. Simpson’s acquittal, they are convinced their former son-in-law is her murderer.
They are grandparents parenting two children who miss their mother and travel every other weekend to see their father at his Brentwood home.
They are wary of the press, but mindful of its power to bring attention to the issue of domestic violence, a cause to which they now commit their energies publicly.
Their circle of friends has grown; it now includes Christopher Darden from the Simpson prosecution team, television personality Geraldo Rivera, and the hundreds of others who have come to know the family throughout its painful ordeal.
People such as Doreen Whitcomb, 39, of Laguna Niguel, who for the second time is organizing a candlelight vigil to mark the anniversary of the deaths.
Wednesday night’s vigil will take place at Salt Creek Beach Park in Dana Point between 9:30 and 10:30 p.m. It is meant as a remembrance of “Ron and Nicole and all the victims of domestic violence,” Whitcomb said.
Whitcomb became acquainted with the Browns two weeks after the murders. Her daughter met Sydney during vacation Bible school. Soon, the little girls were playing at each other’s homes. Whitcomb also has a son who is Justin’s age.
“Justin and Sydney are doing fine,” Whitcomb said. “They are normal, fun kids.”
When they mention their mother, “we talk about her and remember things sweetly and preciously.”
The Browns set the same tone in their household.
“Every child should grow up with a mother,” said Juditha Brown. “But, at least, the children have a grandmother and grandfather and aunts who love them unconditionally.”
Besides their grandparents, the children spend time with Nicole’s sisters, Denise Brown and Dominique Brown of Laguna Niguel, and Tanya Brown, who lives in Newport Beach.
Ensuring the children’s privacy has been a constant source of concern for the Browns.
“The best thing anybody can do for Sydney and Justin is leave them alone, allow them to grow, allow them to move on with their lives,” said Darden, who has remained close to the Brown family. “Some of the [media] snapshots you see of the kids when they’re out, just trying to be kids, are unconscionable.”
The family’s communications with Simpson are civil, Lou Brown said. “We’re thinking in terms of the children growing up. We have to protect any vestige of respect they might have for their father.”
Sometimes, however, the tension seems to burst through.
O.J. Simpson’s best friend, Al Cowlings, has described one uncomfortable incident this spring, when both men showed up at a gym in Laguna Beach to watch Justin play basketball. Justin had called his dad to invite him, but the Browns were clearly upset at their presence, Cowlings told lawyers taking testimony for the upcoming wrongful-death civil court case against Simpson.
The Browns do not allow Simpson to come to their home to take temporary custody; transportation from Monarch Beach to Brentwood is done through an intermediary.
The couple has had temporary guardianship of Sydney and Justin since the summer of 1994, when Simpson was arrested on charges of killing his ex-wife and Goldman. He was acquitted in October.
Every other weekend, the former football star sends a driver to Dana Point to bring the children to his Brentwood estate. After a two-day visit, the driver returns the children to their grandparents’ home.
In December, an Orange County court commissioner ordered that the guardianship case involving the children remain sealed to protect the children’s privacy. The ruling by Commissioner Thomas H. Schulte extends to any posting of upcoming court hearings, which could bring a flood of media attention to the courthouse.
Although the custody case has been kept quiet, the civil case is sure to bring renewed attention to the Browns.
In the trial, set to start Sept. 9, relatives of Goldman and the estate of Nicole Brown Simpson will seek to hold Simpson liable for the Brentwood slayings.
Negative images of Nicole portrayed by some in depositions taken for the civil trial have no place in the memories the Browns cherish. Family photographs, angel images and paintings of Nicole sent to them from supporters around the world fill the living room of the Brown home.
Everywhere, there are images of Nicole--from the sculpted angel whose face is painted to resemble hers, to the small photographs on the coffee and sofa tables, to the oil paintings over the fireplace and sofa.
On the dining room table, Juditha Brown has created “my little shrine,” she said. There, Nicole looks out from a silver frame flanked by angel candles. In front of the photograph rests a Bible and the cross that adorned her coffin.
Brown lights the candles almost daily, praying for her daughter “in my own words.”
Most of the larger photographs belonged to Nicole, she said. Many of the smaller ones were on display before she died.
The gallery is a comfort to the Browns, said their good friend Judie Manto, owner of Carmelo’s restaurant in Corona del Mar. “The family has always been into family photos. There have been so many good times.”
Manto has watched her best friend, Juditha, be devastated, pick herself up, and “go on about the business of living,” she said.
The Browns, who will celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary in July, have lived in their home for 22 years. These days, the home, in a gated community on the north end of Dana Point, has a welcome mat that reads, “Go Away.”
Lou Brown remembers having planned a surprise 20th anniversary house party on what turned out to be the week of the killings.
“Instead, we had the other surprise,” he said, his eyes filling with tears.
Despite their anger over what has happened, Juditha and Lou Brown strive each day to maintain a positive outlook, for their sake and the sake of their children and grandchildren. Every day they wear the small gold angel pins that have become a symbol for Nicole.
Lou Brown, a real estate broker, works to raise funds for the Nicole Brown Simpson Charitable Foundation, where he is treasurer. The nonprofit organization, based in Dana Point, was established by the Browns to disburse funds nationwide to shelters for victims of domestic violence. Although the foundation initially ran into financial management and focus problems, the Browns say those have been resolved. However, lawyers for Simpson in the civil trial are seeking to force Denise Brown to respond to questions about management of the fund.
The foundation in January distributed $168,000 in money from donations and fund-raisers to 78 shelters in 32 states, Lou Brown said.
On June 29, the foundation will sponsor a black-tie gala benefit at the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim. Darden and Rivera will emcee.
“It will not be a sad evening,” Juditha Brown says of the event to which the public is invited. “We plan to have a good time.”
At the anniversary vigil this week, the Browns will be joined by family, friends and clergy members. Last year, hundreds of well-wishers attended.
The loss of their daughter has strengthened the couple spiritually, they say.
“I go often to the little church on the hill here,” Lou Brown said. “I’m involved again.”
Faith has also enabled Juditha Brown to look toward the future.
“Faith carries you through,” she said. “I believe I will see Nicole again.”
Times staff writer Stephanie Simon contributed to this story.