It was at once a funeral and the joyous celebration of a remarkable life.
For a few short hours, hundreds of friends and family paid emotional tribute to Arnett J. Brown Jr., a prominent city educator who seems to have left an indelible impression on every life he touched.
"Arnett Brown was one of those mythic characters that every city -- if it's lucky -- produces once or twice a generation," said Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke, addressing the packed funeral service at Sharon Baptist Church in West Baltimore.
As principal of Cherry Hill Middle School and head of the school principals' association, Brown, 62, who died on Monday, sometimes locked horns with city officials -- and wasn't shy about pressing his views.
"He set about his work. . . with all the delicacy of a runaway train," recalled Schmoke. "Union leaders have a reputation for toughness, and Arnett was no exception to that role. He was tough."
For all that, however, Brown "never took his eyes off the prize. . . . The prize was the best possible public school education," said Schmoke. "He did fight hard, but always in a constructive way."
"He believed, as I believe, that the quality of a principal's leadership is of paramount importance to the success of our schools," continued Schmoke.
And, in a voice choked with emotion, the usually reserved mayor praised Brown as "a brilliant man, a strong leader and a trusted friend. I will miss him."
Richard C. Hunter, school superintendent, praised Brown's dedication to the schools and his willingness to fight for what he believed.
"We all know that he was tenacious," Hunter said. "He was by no means meek or mild.
"I can hear him now: 'Oh, no, chief! We're not going to sit down for that! We're going to talk about it!' "
The superintendent went on to say that Brown "fought against anyone or anything that stood as an obstacle to the education of our very important young people. . . . He was behind every positive effort to improve the Baltimore City public schools.
"I have lost a great friend and a respected administrator," said a visibly moved Hunter.
In his powerful eulogy, the Rev. Dr. Alfred C.D. Vaughn, pastor of Sharon Baptist, recalled that when he first started at the church more than 40 years ago, Brown and his family were already pillars of the congregation.
Vaughn went on to laud Brown's educational career, particularly his commitment to schoolchildren in Cherry Hill, a poor and isolated part of the city.
He noted that Brown was himself a product of then-segregated Baltimore public schools, eventually graduating from Frederick Douglass Senior High School.
"Arnett had sense enough to know that he came from a crippled school system," said Vaughn. But he added that, "just because it's crippled, you don't have to end up crippled yourself."
And he admonished those attending the service to follow Brown's example by offering their services in needy parts of the city.
"Go down there and help emancipate the young minds," Vaughn urged.