We pay homage to Mrs. Hazel Lee Brown, the grandmother of our founder, Nichole Johnson. Hazel was born on December 28, 1929. She was the eldest of 13 children born to Oliver Small Sr. and Virgie Lee Small in Bethany, Louisiana located in Caddo Parish Louisiana.
Due to there being no local high school for Hazel to attend, she was sent off to a boarding school in Louisiana where she lived with approximately 18-20 other girls and attended school. When she would return home for visits, she was received as if she were a movie star because she got to wear new clothes, she was a beautiful young lady, and her hair was always combed and well kept. After finishing high school, Hazel would attend Bishop College, a historically black college, in Marshall, Texas, where she would pursue her independence and her anticipated departure from the ‘country’. Upon setting out on her own, Hazel would be met with some unexpected and unforeseen challenges; but, rather than be deterred by such trials and difficult lessons; she was only strengthened in her personal determination to pursue her goals. Hazel moved to Shreveport, Louisiana where she started working with Frost Brand Chair Company, while also working as a hairdresser.
Hazel had a natural charm about her, along with personal integrity and confidence. Her strong personality and genuine character traits, when combined with the humbling nature of the tests and trials experienced during her early and formative years of independence, would prove providential. Her individual journey laid the foundation upon which sacrifice, servitude and personal determination would both shape her life and the lives of others. Ambitions for individual success would eventually, over time, be transformed to a sincere desire to simply serve her family.
In 1961, she and her family relocated to California where she would live in that first purchased home all the days of her California life. Hazel was a homemaker and she also babysat many children as a means of connecting with her neighbourhood and building community. Hazel loved pictures and could stand out as a photographer in her own right as she would carry her camera everywhere as a means of capturing the beauty of the life that she and others lived throughout the community. Hazel also loved writing letters and cutting out and mailing comics to people for fun and by way of encouragement. She loved having others over to play board games, especially Milton Bradley games, and when it came to personal down time, Hazel loved to read books and she loved her cross word puzzles and puzzle books. Such reading and other activities allowed her to challenge herself and others in how they thought and how they lived. Hazel cared immensely about people in general; but especially about their souls in particular.
This would be most notable in child raising; not just her own birth children, but the many spiritual children with whom she was blessed to influence, instruct and train up. And young folks knew they had the special attention of Ms. Brown when they were affectionately addressed as “Rusty Rabbit” or “Nappy Knot”! Even though these were familiar terms for Ms. Brown, when Hazel used them, there was no doubting the special place each individual young person held within her heart as a result of that label.
Her love for the youth was captured in the varied teaching and service ministries geared towards young people. In addition to church related activities, Hazel was very industrious by selling Icee cups during summer months to raise money for kids; she would pile kids in her trusty van and drive them to Laurel Canyon and other places; she loved to attend the sporting events of her children, grandchildren and other youth; and Hazel was known to always braid the hair of the players on the local football team. And while these services to the many youth in her community were kind hearted, they were also purposeful. Hazel would hand out Good News Bible’s to each of the youth she encountered and she expected them to complete specific assignments as they would be quizzed by her. She was very faithful in reaching out to the youth in her community, in the church and in her large family with the message of hope and the love of Jesus. Over the course of her life, Hazel has given out well over 500 Good News Bibles as her love for the Lord and the spreading of His gospel was insurmountable. And, because she always remembered the missteps of her own early life, she would be firm in speaking truth to others, yet in love.
Lapin Rouillé, "Rusty Rabbit" in French, is the moniker our brand name encompasses. Most importantly it pays tribute to the most important woman in Nichole Johnson's life. The resilience, sacrifice, strength, but most importantly love is what shaped her into the woman she is today. It's allowed her to build our brand and strive for the greatness she aims to achieve. On this, the 1st Day of Women's History Month, we salute the life and legacy of Mrs. Hazel Lee Brown. Cheers!