Family man, friend, natural leader. Born on Sept. 15, 1949, in Winnipeg; died on Oct. 10, 2013, in Peterborough, Ont., of melanoma, aged 64.
Bob Browne inherited his commitment to service to others from his father, James, a career officer in the Canadian Armed Forces who was wounded at Dieppe and awarded the Military Cross for bravery there. An army chaplain after the war, he moved the family every two years. When Bob was six, his mother, Jessie, died and he and his two older brothers were sent to boarding school at Appleby College in Oakville, Ont.
Bob admired his father enormously. They spent a lot of time with each other, building a sailboat and sailing together. In later years, Bob built a summer cabin near Huntsville for his father (who retired as chaplain general of the Armed Forces), and duplicated their close relationship with his own children.
Twenty-five years ago, Bob and his wife Lynne were hoping to adopt a child. While Lynne was in Vancouver with her ailing father, the adoption agency called to say it had a newborn girl for them. Having waited four years for their first child, and Bob and Lynne were ecstatic. The agency offered to place the infant in a foster home until Lynne returned, but Bob’s response was decisive: “Our child is coming home with me.” When Lynne landed at the airport a few days later, Bob was waiting, proudly smiling, with baby Jessica asleep in his arms. Two years later, they completed their family by adopting son Ryan.
After graduating from Glendon College in 1971, Bob joined the Metropolitan Toronto Police. As a community service officer, he began lifelong friendships with social workers and youth workers – a close-knit group of seven men who called themselves, in fun, the SNAGS (sensitive new age guys).
Later, Harbourfront Centre recruited him as manager of security services. He eventually became director of operations, part of the management team that oversaw the rejuvenation of the Toronto waterfront. After a period as a consultant, Bob and his wife Lynne moved to Peterborough. As the city’s director of community services, he oversaw the building of the Peterborough Recreation Centre, the Memorial Centre and other public venues.
After retiring in 2007, Bob undertook a major renovation of his island cottage at Gold Lake in the Kawarthas, working alongside the tradesmen. He was well-known as a neighbour always willing to help out. Last summer, Gold Lake was hit by a tornado. Although he was undergoing radiation and chemotherapy treatments, Bob took charge, and delegated people to deal with clearing dozens of downed trees, even wielding a chainsaw himself.
He had great integrity. His philosophy was that you were only as good as your word; he sealed every deal with a handshake, whether it was helping a cottager move building materials to an island or assisting his son to buy his first car.
An avid outdoorsman, Bob excelled at sports, boating and camping. He was a dedicated steward of the land and served on the board of the Kawartha Land Trust. This spring, they will name a trail after him to honour his contributions. His joy of life was intense and infectious. A few months before his death, he relived his youth by buying an Alfa Romeo Spider, a car he had in his early twenties.
As son Ryan said at his funeral, “He was a multifaceted and humble man who had an innate sense of justice. He had an inquisitive soul filled with curiosity, adventure and fun. He was a very centred man who was sure of himself and his capabilities, and immensely appreciative of what others could bring to the table.”
Terry Lee and the other members of the SNAGS are Bob’s friends of 35 years.