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John Val Browning

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John Val Browning 1925 ~ 2003  OGDEN - John Val Browning died peacefully on 18 March 2003 at the age of 77, after a short illness, bravely borne, in Salt Lake City, Utah.  He was the son of Val Allen and Ann Chaffin Browning of Ogden, and grew up and lived in Ogden, Utah and Liege, Belgium. He had two careers: first as president of Browning Arms Company and, after that company was sold, as co-founder and director of Southern Pacific Petroleum, a pioneer in developing shale oil. He was married firstly in 1949 to Geraldine Ossman of Salt Lake City. That marriage ended in divorce in 1963. He then married, in 1967, Carol Conroy of Ogden. He is survived by his wife, their two children, Rete Conroy and Celine Carol, and the son of his first marriage, John  Allen.John Val Browning was born on 30 June 1925 in Rocourt, near Liege, Belgium where his father, Val, was supervising the manufacture of guns invented by his own father, the great gun inventor, John Moses Browning. Although he was probably the most prolific and distinguished inventor of firearms, John Moses Browning never manufactured his own creations. He sold many early guns to Colt and Winchester, and then licensed manufacture of later sporting arms to Fabrique National of Liege. It was here, in Liege, that John Val spent his youth, living in a white house ("La Maison Blanche") on the banks of the Meuse. Val Browning moved his family back to Ogden in 1935. Perfectly at ease on either side of the Atlantic, John Val never lost his fluent French nor the formal and gracious manners of his Belgian youth. He was educated at Brown Military Academy and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he studied engineering and metallurgy. Shortly after graduating from MIT, he was drafted into the Navy, where he was trained in radar. The war ended before those skills could be put to use, though, and he spent the rest of his service unloading ships bringing demobilizing servicemen and their equipment back home. Although he had a lifelong love of military history, his experiences of swabbing decks and lifting cargo left him with no fondness for the Navy. In 1949, John Val married Geraldine Ossman and moved back to Liege. The factories at Fabrique National had been very badly damaged by the war. John Val and his father Val devoted themselves to helping to re-build the factories and with them the sporting-arms business that had been interrupted by the war. After the factories were rebuilt, he worked to improve both the quality of the guns and the breadth of the product range. He and his wife were active in Belgian sporting and social circles, and built many lifelong friendships. Because of his work with FN, John Val was made a Chevalier de l'Ordre de Leopold, one of Belgium's highest distinctions, awarded by King Baudouin, for services to US-Belgium trade. He was also made a "citoyen d'honneur" (citizen of honor) of Rocourt. In 1960, John Val moved back to Ogden, where he assumed the presidency of Browning Arms. Here he greatly expanded the scope of the company's activities. He diversified from guns into a range of sporting goods, including fishing equipment, clothing, bicycles, racquets and boats. He similarly began to shift some manufacturing from Belgium to Japan, in search of high quality at a lower price. In 1967, he married for a second time, to Carol Conroy. They shared frequent business trips to Japan which began a lasting fascination with that country and enduring friendships in it.  Browning Arms was sold in 1977 to Fabrique National and John Val moved on to join with an Australian friend from MIT, Ian McFarlane, to found Southern Pacific Petroleum. Amid the energy crises of the 1970s and 1980s, SPP, headquartered in Sydney, Australia, developed technology to cook petroleum from shale-like rock, and so supplement the world's supplies of liquid crude oil with this new source of energy. Along the way, SPP amassed reserves of shale oil, mostly in Australia, equivalent to those of the North Sea. John Val remained active in SPP until his death, and was proud to see the development of a working demonstration plant to prove the technical viability of his and Mr. McFarlane's vision. In addition to proving that oil could be got from shale, he also developed a visionary program to use oil-shale revenues to re-forest large tracts of Australia - and so reduce net greenhouse emissions, increase biodiversity and improve agricultural yields by reversing the salination of the soil. Work dominated John Val's life. He rose early and, even at home, spent most days at his desk, dressed in jacket and his customary bow tie. But he was by no means a narrow man. He had a vast knowledge and love of classical music and literature. He maintained a small but select collection of Meissen porcelain. As chairman of the Val A Browning Foundation, established by his father, he supported a range of charities, arts and community developments across Utah and the West. He loved above most things good conversation and strong debate. Each week he devoured a range of publications in French and English of all shades of political opinion. He always had both a strong grasp of world developments and strong views on them - though views which were tempered by laughter, keen wit and an appreciation of the absurd. He was a member of the Ogden Golf and Country Club, the Alta Club of Salt Lake City and the Union Club of Sydney, Australia. The world is poorer for his passing, and he will be deeply and profoundly missed.  Donations in the memory of John Val Browning to the University of Utah Hospital Bone Marrow Transplant Unit or the Union Station Foundation in Ogden (for the benefit of the John M Browning museum). Family will meet friends Monday, March 24, 2003, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m., at Leavitt's Mortuary, 836 36th Street, Ogden, Utah. Private memorial services will be held at a later date.
Published in Deseret News from Mar. 22 to Mar. 24, 2003
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