Born in London in 1913, Brown's family immigrated to Canada. He was commissioned as an officer in 1935.
Brown's service prior to the Generalship was variously in pastoral, editorial,public relations, youth work and administrative roles, in Canada and the United Kingdom. It included pioneering religious radio and television broadcasting for The Salvation Army, with radio and television series being used in Canada, the United States and Australia.
Brown served as The Salvation Army's second-in-command, the Chief of the Staff, from 1969-1974. Aged 64, he was elected General on 5 May 1977 with 35 of 41 votes on the first ballot. He assumed command on 5 July.
Under Brown's leadership the Salvation Army Act 1980 was approved by the British Parliament, providing an updated constitutional framework for TheSalvation Army. Among other noteworthy activities, a divorce commission was established to address divorce and separation within The Salvation Army's ranks.
Following consultation with international Army leaders, Brown led The Salvation Army's withdrawal from the World Council of Churches. This was because of the WCC's political leanings and pressure for eucharistic union vis-a-vis The Salvation Army's non-observance of the sacraments.
Brown retired in 1981 and died in 2002, aged 89.