Remembering June Browne

Many years ago, June Browne and her husband Howard joined my wife Shelagh and me at an Oakland East Bay Symphony concert that ended with Samuel Barber’s poignant “Adagio for Strings.” The piece begins with one of the more quiet sections in classical music, and at that moment a very loud fight broke out in the back of the Paramount Theater between an usher and a patron. The orchestra and Maestro Morgan soldiered on through the yelling, but then, post-fight, they played the entire piece again. Shortly afterwards, I saw June at the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club and mentioned the wildness of the night. She focused on the positive: “At least we got to hear the piece twice!” That was June: she did not turn a blind eye to problems, but if something had a silver lining, she resolved to find it.

June passed away this March after an illness and a short spell under hospice. She would have celebrated her 100th birthday in July. Our most senior continuous member, she joined the BLBC in 1988. June and Howard served the club in various ways. For many years, Howy (as he introduced himself) edited the paper version of the club’s “Green Sheet” newsletter. He also provided many photographs at club events, which he cheerfully did with skill. June could be counted on to help set up and clean up at club functions and for many years served on the Memorial and Endowments Fund as a valued trustee. June bowled amiably for many years–always a good sport and good team mate.

As Howard’s health declined from Parkinson’s, June made sure he could still attend events at the club, even as he bowled shorter and fewer games. After Howy died in 2007, June handled the big change in her life with grace and considerable verve. She continued to enjoy concerts, singing in the choir at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, and traveling internationally.

Born in Riverside in 1923, June told me that her father died not long after she was born. Her mother struggled as a single parent, and June learned at an early age that women labored at a disadvantage in the world. The old saying went that for a woman to be considered as good as man, she had to perform twice as well. June did not seem at all daunted or–based on her personal observation–worried by this prospect. Whip smart (her knowledge of art, literature, and science ran impressively wide and deep), canny (as anyone who played poker with her soon found out), and realistic, June used her formidable intellect and resilience in anything she pursued. A proud graduate of UC Berkeley, she earned her degree in chemistry and worked in a lab. She met Howard (she once said about dating Howard, “He was such a good driver, and that impressed me in a young man.”), married him, and they began a family.

With their four sons, they took family trips in a camper and worked on their stunning mid-century modern house in the Kensington hills (she lovingly pointed out parts that Howard, ever the hands-on engineer, built or modified in the house). She created a beautiful garden in the back with fruit trees and flowers that in her later years gave her great pleasure to look upon. She liked that some of the neighborhood cats adopted her–they knew quality.

June launched into her 90’s with an energy that many friends decades younger could only envy. She continued to sing in her choir, she went to shows, she took grandchildren on trips to Europe, she toured with her choir, and she played poker regularly at the BLBC clubhouse. Game for anything!

June liked to entertain. She graciously hosted small events in salon style, and she liked a good conversation about serious things over appetizers and wine. She liked hearing about new things. Some people may have looked at June and thought her a little formal in her way; I never heard her call her husband “Howy,” she always called him “Howard.” She did not seem to care for anything diminutive in things or in people; she preferred everything at full-strength. Any time spent with June after that initial introduction revealed a sincere, curious, and generous person. June liked a good laugh, and her mischievous grin responding to a well-delivered bon mot served as quite a reward.

We at the Berkeley Lawn Bowling Club will miss June. But mostly we will fondly remember her time with the club and the times she worked and played with us. We offer our condolences to her family, and thank them for sharing June with us for 35 years.