Others first, and then you

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 9, 2001

One of the great things about my job with the newspaper is the wonderful people I get to meet, people I might never get to know otherwise. It's also one of the hardest parts of my job.

Two weeks ago I lost a wonderful friend. When I first met him just a few short months ago, I didn't realize how quickly he would exit my life.

I didn't know him long. But I surely won't ever forget him.

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It all began when local photographer and pilot Billy Calhoun gave me a call back in June. "Read you were looking for World II veterans to profile-I know just the fellow you should talk to," Billy said.

"Mr. Bob Browne flew B-17s over Germany…just the nicest guy you ever met, and he's a writer and artist, too."

My interest was definitely piqued. He certainly sounded like an interesting guy, just the ticket for my military series in The Butler County News.

A few days later I was seated on Mr. Browne's little screened-in porch on Pine Street in Georgiana.

The first thing I noted when I met this gentleman was his size

he was a big man, still physically imposing for an octogenarian.

Then there was the voice, deep and rich, resonating like a bass fiddle.

And I liked his handshake. Daddy always said, "Watch out for the folks who barely squeeze your hands like they're afraid they're gonna catch something." Mr. Browne's handshake was strong and firm, no sissy stuff there.

Mr. Browne, a retired aerospace engineer, published writer and artist, was full of interesting anecdotes of his life: growing up in an orphanage in Troy, dreaming of piloting his own plane one day, earning his wings' in World War II and flying dozens of dangerous bombing missions over Germany.

He loved planes, all kinds of planes. A seraphic smile spread across his face every time he spoke of training in the Beechcraft A-10s or piloting his beloved B-17 "Fearless Fosdick."

He loved to laugh; I think he probably had a joke or pun for most every occasion. It was easy to see the lanky kid with the shock of dark hair and a penchant for mischief still embodied in that gentle, bespectacled old gentleman.

"I had a real talent for finding trouble in my youth…but those good folks at the orphanage did their best to show me the right way," he'd explain.

He always said he owed a lot to his mentor and adopted mother, Miss Mattie Wilson. He learned to love the English language she taught; he loved his country, his family and his God.

When his kids were small and they'd say something like "Me and John went to the store," Mr. Browne quickly corrected them.

"No, it's John and I…others first, then you," he'd say.

Miss Mattie taught him that rule of grammar and he never forgot it.

It wasn't just a rule he followed in his speech and writing; it was a way of life for Bob Browne.

Even in his last days when he was wracked with pain, sickened and weakened by the cancer eating away at his body and the chemotherapy treatments, he remained the true southern gentleman, kind and solicitous. It couldn't have been easy, but Bob Browne managed it.

"He got sick… in the car coming back from one of his last treatments…we had just picked up some lunch at a fast food place. He began apologizing to my daughter, feeling he might have spoiled her lunch…that's just the way Bob was," his widow Nadine shared with me.

Many of the people of Georgiana are mourning the loss of this good friend and neighbor, an extraordinary real American hero who always put others first, himself second.

I'm so blessed to have known him.