Remembering Ray Browne: He Served

Friends and family gathered Friday at Holy Trinity Church in Georgetown to celebrate the life and good work of longtime Georgetown resident Ray Browne.  Ray was known for his strong moral character, his meticulous style, his sense of public service to his neighborhood and Washington -- and his one vanity, always being tanned.

Ray was elected three times as the District’s unpaid shadow representative, charged with lobbying for congressional representation.  But he didn't just stay inside the Beltway.  At his own expense, he traveled the country to generate support for representation.  His long service in this sometimes thankless role led Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton to remark that “Ray couldn’t have done his research before he ran for this non-paying job.” She was joined by the current shadow delegation, Senators Paul Strauss and Michael Brown and Representative Mike Panetta, as well as former Representatives Tom Bryant, John Capozzi and Charles Moreland.

Too devastated to take the lectern, no family members spoke at the funeral, but a diverse range of friends and officials described Ray's many kinds of service to his fellow man. He was an active member of Alcoholics Anonymous, having struggled for many years with the addiction, then becoming a sponsor to help others. His fellow AA members said he was always available to help them.

Other friends and supporters added to Ray’s memory. Nelson Rimensnyder decried The Washington Post's seeming disinterest in the shadow delegation despite Browne's excellent service. District activist Sam Gough described Ray's top priorities: God, family and the District of Columbia. A representative of Mayor Adrian Fenty brought the flag that was flown at half-mast at the District Building following Ray's death Feb. 13 (photo by Mike Panetta).

A native Washingtonian, Ray graduated from Osbourn High School in Manassas after his family relocated to northern Virginia. Later, he ran track at the University of Maryland. He worked as a general agent for the Aetna insurance company in the Piedmont before starting his own insurance comopany. Ray also served as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Georgetown, a mediator for the D.C. Superior Court, and as vice chairman of the board of directors of the Hurt Home for severely emotionally disturbed youths. He was on the Mayor's Commission on Alcoholism and the District's drug strategy team.

Ray was nothing if not a gentle but straight talker. When former Mayor Marion Barry sought a comeback seat on the D.C. Council in 1990, Ray called on Barry to withdraw from the campaign to focus on his drug-abuse recovery. Ray also was one of the few politicians brave enough to criticize Rep. Norton at times for her handling of the campaign in Congress for full representation. But because of his work with Norton and Rep. Tom Davis, the House passed a D.C. voting rights bill in 2007, which failed in the Senate. He was 71.

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Kathy Henderson

Ray Browne left an indelible mark on the District of Columbia and will be greatly missed by many. Whenever you saw Ray he spoke about our disenfranchisement and his confidence that we would soon get the representation we deserve. I remember Ray as a cheerful and determined public servant and I am saddened to hear of his passing. I offer my deepest condolences to his family and all who had the pleasure of knowing him. Ray Browne was indeed a rare and sterling individual.

Kathy Henderson
Former At-Large Member, DC Democratic State Committee
Chair, Statehood Committee

Molly Browne Lynch

As Ray's daughter, I would like to add a short note to Beth's piece, which I stumbled upon via Google.

Unfortunately, my father's passing was too devastating a loss for any members of my family to take the lectern that Friday. To say anything meaningful would have left us in a puddle on the altar.

What I would have said, had I summoned the requisite composure, is that my father looked at each day of his life as a wonderful adventure. And that adventure played out on the streets of the hometown he loved so very much. To Ray Browne, there was no place better than his Washington. And so, a hometown mourns.

Though his memorial service focused on the days he spent pounding the political pavement from Georgetown to Anacostia and back again, his most important life's work -- by far -- was as an adoring husband, proud father, and exceptional friend. His service touched on his public life but barely scratched the surface of the life of the person who taught me to share my change with the man on the corner, dream big, help anyone who asks, place my napkin in my lap, and laugh whenever I got the chance.

When I was in college, my father and I got to talking one day about the overwhelming sense of comfort we felt when we returned to Washington after a long trip. In those days, when you landed at National Airport a flight attendant would warmly say: "Welcome to our nation's capital. We hope you enjoy your stay. And if you're from Washington, welcome home." That last part could nearly send my Dad and I into tears. It said so little but meant so much.

When I returned to Washington to be by my father's side in his final days, I didn't expect to be comforted when the wheels of my United airbus touched the tarmac. But I was.

Although I miss my father every moment of every day, I know that he has finally landed in the one place better than Washington (though he might argue the point). It's a place without cancer. And I have a feeling it's a place without snow. Most importantly, when he arrived there, I'm quite sure he was greeted with a warm and friendly, "Welcome home."


Thanks so much for adding those warm remembrances,