Adrienne Simpson-Brown: Service through criminal justice

Susan EspirituWest Knoxville

When the person I admire the most, my brother Tom Dillard, says, “She is the best,” when speaking of Adrienne Simpson-Brown, Chief U.S. Probation Officer, I immediately wanted to learn about her journey and share her story.

Adrienne Simpson was born in Mobile, Alabama, to parents who were still in college, but she had the blessing of grandparents, Cecil and Grace Simpson, who raised her with the additional blessing of three generations of grandmothers to influence the faith she would bring with her into adulthood.

These influencers were mostly of the Catholic faith, except for the Pentecostal grandfather preacher, so Adrienne attended Catholic school until she began the University of Alabama, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a minor in psychology, following with a master’s in criminal justice.

Her youth was not without disappointment and heartbreak. Her treasured grandmother Grace Elizabeth was diagnosed with terminal colon cancer during Adrienne’s high school sophomore year. Despite a promising basketball career, Adrienne quit the team to help with her grandmother’s care.

She recounts, “The loss of my grandmother was a huge blow to our family. She was our backbone with a caring and giving sprit that resonated with all who knew her. Her loss made me more determined to find my way and discover my purpose as she would have had me do. I always wanted to make her proud.”

This determination is echoed in Simpson-Brown’s favorite quote from the Bible: “To much is given, much is required.” (Luke 12: 48)

It was during her early school years that she determined her path was to serve others, first wanting to be a child psychologist. Then a unique guest speaker changed the course of her life to where she serves today.

She recalls that day: “During my criminal justice class, an inmate from one of the Alabama prisons talked to our class about how and why he became involved in criminal activity. I discovered there is a relatable story for most people who become involved in the criminal justice system. It intrigued me to know why and to figure out how I could be a part of the solution for the many factors leading to criminal activity.”

This day determined Adrienne Simpson’s “why” and she felt the calling to make a difference in the justice system.

So, she began her journey that would culminate in the job she holds today. After working as an intern and a contract student at the United States Probation Office in Birmingham, she moved to Knoxville into the position of United States Probation Officer in September 1993.

Over the years, Simpson-Brown has shown an unwavering work ethic, a commitment to learning, an ability to foster relationships and an understanding of the invaluable wisdom gained from listening to mentors.

She believes, “This foundation led to my promotions to guideline specialist, supervisor, assistant deputy chief, deputy chief and ultimately to my current role as chief. Each new position brought more responsibility and challenges, all of which prepared me for my role as chief.”

Christianna Brown, Adrienne Simpson-Brown and Adryanna Brown in Tybee Island, Georgia, July 2023

East Tennessee might have lost the skills of this highly effective servant had she fulfilled her initial three-year commitment and headed back to Alabama, but fortunately, Charles Brown came along, they married and stayed here in Knoxville. Their two daughters, Adryanna Elizabeth and Christianna Cymone, are 19 and 11, respectively.

As Chief Simpson-Brown nears retirement, she says her life journey reminds her of another of her favorite quotes by Oprah Winfrey: “It takes courage to be who you are!” However, her journey reminds me of my favorite quote about her from W. Thomas Dillard: “She’s the best!”

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