Getting the Words Out

Mark Brown was determined not to let his stutter get the better of him.

This article about Major Mark Brown of The Salvation Army appeared in the organization’s June 2011 issue of “Faith & Friends.” Major Brown received stuttering treatment at Hollins Communications Research Institute (HCRI –, based in Roanoke, Va. HCRI scientists pioneered the concept of behavioral stuttering therapy and have continued to develop treatment innovations that help people who stutter acquire the skills to speak fluently and spontaneously.

By Patrick Patey

As a community relations and development secretary, Major Mark Brown is committed to getting the word out about what The Salvation Army does. But for him, getting words out at all can be a challenge.

Mark stutters. Somewhere between his brain, where his thoughts run pure, and his tongue, where they come out like a skip on an old broken record, something prevents him from fluently expressing his thoughts. The handicap frustrates and dismays Mike.

“Someone who has a speech impediment looks relatively normal until he starts to talk,” he says. “Sometimes you block on a word or start having a painful-looking facial expression because you are trying to say something.”

“Every time a person who stutters walks into a store or goes for a job interview or asks somebody for a date, he’s thinking, How am I going to pull this off?” he says. “I never feel adequate to completely express myself.

“Your Best Shot”

Mark came to the United States from London, England in 1993 to direct The Salvation Army’s Office of Media Ministries. For the next nine years, he worked behind a camera or in an editing room where he wasn’t typically required to speak in public.

But in 2001, he was appointed area commander in Alabama and then soon after transferred to Texas. Suddenly, Mark found himself on the other side of a microphone, and center stage at a variety of public venues.

The appointment was the biggest challenge of his career. Expectations were high, and public image was a priority. Mark was forced to daily draw on his courage. “Most people find public speaking daunting, but for me it’s terrifying,” he says. “You take a deep breath and give it your best shot.”

Fateful Speech

Six months into the appointment, Mark stood before a large audience at a Sunday evening worship service in Dallas where The Salvation Army presented a Christmas concert. Although Mark was unaware of it, in the audience that night was another stutterer named Charles Goodson.

Charles still remembers how others, even adults, made fun of him as a child.

“What people thought about me and the way I talk always bothered me,” says Charles. “But when I heard Major Brown talking in spite of his stutter, I said to myself, ‘If Major Brown can do that, I can do that.’”

Now a member of The Salvation Army who has given a personal story of faith in public, Charles believes that God had a plan in bringing the major into his life.

“I’ve come a long way with my stuttering thanks to the major – and God,” Charles says. “God used Major Brown to help me and I’m certain I’m going to help somebody else.

Doing the Most Good

Mark isn’t sure why he stutters but there’s one thing he is sure about.

“I don’t want anyone to think negatively about The Salvation Army because I can’t express myself clearly or adequately,” he says.

That, in part, is what motivates him to see intensive speech therapy to help with his fluency. Every three to five years, he spends a week at a [stuttering] research institute in Virginia [the Hollins Communications Research Institute], where he learns and practices skills to minimize the involuntary repetition of syllables.

“I’m not looking for sympathy. I’m not looking for accolades. I do what I do because I am called by God,” Mark says. “It is not something that I take lightly. I do the best I can. I try to do the most good I can every day.”

About HCRI

Hollins Communications Research Institute was founded by Ronald L. Webster in 1972 to investigate stuttering through scientific discovery and treatment innovation. Under Dr. Webster’s direction, Roanoke, Virginia-based HCRI, a 501 (c) (3) charitable organization, has become an international leader in stuttering research and the development of innovative, scientifically based therapy approaches.

The Institute offers 17 stuttering therapy programs annually, each of which lasts 12 days. HCRI clinicians have treated nearly 6,000 people, aged 10 to 73, from across the U.S. and 47 other countries. Clients include broadcaster John Stossel of Fox News; Annie Glenn, wife of Senator and Astronaut John Glenn; as well as athletes, teachers, engineers, students, doctors, military personnel, business professionals, police officers, actors, and others from all walks of life.

For more information about HCRI’s approach to stuttering therapy, visit or call HCRI at 540-265-5650.