John Henry Browne
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1943 - 2017
"Think where man's glory most begins and ends / And say my glory was I had such friends." -William Butler Yeats

John Henry Browne, age 73, died on Sunday, February 5th, after an intense battle with lymphoma.

A native of the Bronx, John was born on November 14, 1943 and lived his entire life in New York City. As a young man he attended St. Nicholas of Tolentine, and was a graduate of Manhattan College.

John was deeply committed to the City, its teachers, and its students. He began his career at a junior high school in the South Bronx before moving to the High School of Art and Design where he taught English for over 28 years. He also worked as an adjunct professor at LaGuardia Community College. After 32 years of public school teaching, he retired in 1999.

His second career began shortly thereafter when he joined the Teaching of English program at Teachers College, Columbia University. As a teacher educator, John mentored aspiring teachers in an office adorned with Shakespearean keepsakes. He modeled the timeless art of teaching literature and reading and had the uncommon ability to focus completely on the needs of the person before him. He is remembered for his quick wit, generosity of spirit, tall stature, and booming jovial voice. By his own estimation, the number of students he taught over nearly half a century could fill Yankee Stadium.

John's devotion to his family was bottomless. Although he received numerous professional awards and accolades they don't hold light to his immense devotion and love as an ever-present son, son-in-law, caring father, and adoring grandfather. He is survived by his two daughters, Alison Browne Beckman and Gillian Browne, their mother Lucille Browne, sons-in-law Craig Beckman and Brian Colavito, granddaughters Lilah Rose and Kaela Brynn, beloved partner of the last eight years Jonna Semeiks, and thousands of loving students, colleagues, and friends.

A wake will be held on Thursday, February 9, 2017 from 4pm to 8pm at Riverdale on The Hudson Funeral Home, and a mass will be held on Friday, February 10, 2017 at 10:30am at Saint John the Divine in Manhattan. In lieu of flowers, gifts may be sent to the TCFund and designated to financial aid in memory of John Browne, which will support scholarships for students in need.

Out, out, brief candle! You will be forever deeply missed.

To Plant Memorial Trees in memory, please visit our Sympathy Store.
Published in New York Times from Feb. 7 to Feb. 8, 2017.
Memories & Condolences
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55 entries
February 1, 2020
February 1, 2020
Brother John (what his sister Peggy called him and it stuck): I think of you often. Your influence stays with me.
Cousin Jimmy
July 5, 2017
I am just learning this now. John Browne was the "hug" of Teachers College. He inspired me in so many ways when I was getting my MA in teaching there. He embodied the joy we talk about bringing to the classroom and the fire we talk about lighting in students. He lit a fire in me that has stayed with me even now as a principal. When I'm working with my teachers, I often say to myself,"How can I help them be the next John Browne? How can I make them fall so deeply in love with teaching that they want to do this for decades to come?" Thank you, John, for setting this bar for me. Thank you, thank you.
Erin Quigley
June 2, 2017
Mr. Browne. I just want to say "Mr. Browne I appreciate you immensely! You kindness and words still continue to be with me and your every now and then smile. Thank you! May your journey and transition to your Ancestor be one of peace and glory! Your student Anaelisa
Anaelisa Valdespino
February 20, 2017
John...a special man who had the gift of giving joy, listening intensely, caring deeply. For so many. I always was "better" after talking with John; he just understood and shared his thoughts that painted a perspective enriched with humor and his unique wisdom. I do miss him. We all do. We all will.
Al Diamond
February 18, 2017
passage written by Mr. Browne from 1985
Tsui Pappas
February 18, 2017
From the Class of 1985 Art and Design yearbook
Tsui Yuen-Pappas
February 14, 2017
I had some incredible teachers and mentors at Teachers College, but John was the only one who told us stories about eating lunch in the bathroom as a new teacher and crying about really hard days. Something he told me (probably on one of my really hard days) is a little piece of gold I still think about and pass down to new teachers who need to hear it: even when your lesson really tanks, nobody walks out of your room saying, "Whoa, Ms. Zuckerman really didn't have it together today. Her timing was so off, and what was with that essential question? Bizarre." They're thinking about lunch. Or math homework. Or why their girlfriend isn't texting me back. He made me laugh and take myself less seriously and reminded me that teaching should be fun and experimental and risky, and so if sometimes my lessons tanked, I was allowed to give myself a pass. He made me feel like I could DO this, and then I went and did it. I will always miss him.
Zara Zuckerman
February 14, 2017
Gillian, we are deeply saddened to hear of your Dad's passing. We are so very sorry for your loss. Our heartfelt condolences to you, Brian, Lilah and to all of your family and friends who loved him. You are in our thoughts and prayers. Ann and Ron
Ann and Ron Lewkiewicz
February 11, 2017
Thank you Erick for this site.

At times, I would go to Shakespeare in the Park with him and it was a master class in the nuances of the plays. He always talked about how in teaching Shakespeare, the students had to inhabit the characters and act scenes out. He said he learned as much from the students as what they learned from him.

Brother John was a natural teacher.

He was an advocate for teachers and students.

This video shows his amazing restraint when being interrupted, still fighting for his students and fellow teachers : :Judith West interview.
Cousin Jimmy
February 11, 2017
John was my friend, mentor, and supplemental parent for over twenty years. We shared the same office at a community college, where we both taught, and I was struck by his wit, humor, and most of all by his supernatural kindness. He was always there for me. Our never-ending debates about everything from politics to teaching methods were a constant source of enjoyment. After learning of his passing, I can't stop crying.
John Borrillo
February 11, 2017
November 2016
I first learned about John Browne through my colleague and co-teacher early in my career. It was my first time teaching Shakespeare, and we were about to take on Romeo and Juliet with a group of freshmen at a public school in downtown Brooklyn. I had no idea where to begin.
Let's do it John Browne style, she said.
What does that mean? I replied hesitantly, half wondering if I missed something in grad school.
We'll get the kids on their feet! Have them act it out! It is going to be amazing just wait!
We took it on, and watched our students interpret script as Elizabethan actors: setting the scene, making choices, and ultimately becoming Shakespeare's characters. I was hooked.

Several years later, in a different public school in Washington Heights, John's name once again found it's way into my English classroom. I had just received a student teacher and we were going through the syllabus, We're teaching Midsummer?! she enthusiastically questioned, I just took a course about this at TC! We just acted out the play!
This time, I didn't miss a beat, John Browne's class? Performance based? I knowingly replied.
That's the one! She replied, Did you take his class?
I've actually never met him, but most of this unit is modeled after that same approach. It will be great to have your input!

A few years later, I would finally connect with John as department chair organizing incoming student teachers. Our relationship would be based mostly though email exchanges asking how many teachers I would need or how things were working out. Occasionally he would make a joke or send along an encouraging note during one of the longer stretches of school year, always with a signature valediction: Great Weekend or Appreciated or Enjoy the Break. His small notes, coming from his thirty-two years as a public school teacher, went a long way. Though I had never met the man in person, I felt like he was genuinely looking out for me, thankful for my contribution.

Teacher after teacher would come through our school, and they would reliably rave about the incredible John Browne.

Finally, just last Fall, John sent a note saying he was retiring from TC, but that he would continue his Teaching of Shakespeare class to stay connected. In a reply of congratulations, I casually asked if I could stop in one day to see his infamous' Shakespeare course in action. Why don't you just take the course?! John invited. I couldn't refuse.

So I was part of John's final Teaching of Shakespeare course in Fall 2016. When we finally met in person for the first time, we exchanged smiles, a handshake, and flood of mutual respect. That's how he made you feel respected, appreciated, special. After thirteen years in the profession, he pushed me in ways that I needed, helping me synthesize, innovate, and gain confidence in my own ideas. I watched himeffortlessly lacing teacher moves,' building relationships, modeling a human form of leadershipbring our community together and exercise his gift that he had been giving to the world for nearly 50 years.

So John is still with us. He is in classrooms across the country, living in the hearts of the hundreds of teachers he has mentored, the thousands those will mentor, and in the multitude of studentsfilled with excitement, a little healthy apprehension, and joyexperiencing Shakespeare, John Browne style, for the first time.

I will miss your notes, your smiles, and conversations John; but I will keep your passion, ethic, humor, and towering character as my inspiration as the work continues. Thank you for your gift.
Anthony Voulgarides
February 10, 2017
John went out of his way on every level to be inviting and kind. Every time he did I struggled to return the favor and never thought it was enough, he always deserved more and it was always true.

It destroys me that such a positive presence was taken from this world but after seeing everyone tell their story of how he has personally enriched their lives it puts a smile on my face to know that he will never be forgotten.

My biggest regret about knowing John was not having known him sooner. Thank you John, for everything.
Dan Colavito
February 10, 2017
You sparked such love and passion for teaching, literature, and of course, The Bard in every student you taught. You kindness, patience, and wicked wit resonated with a multitude of people who love and adore you. A mighty sequoia of a man with a booming voice and sparkling blue Irish eyes; the loss we all feel is brutal and will not heal completely. Thank you for your time, your wisdom, and your great capacity for joy in all
that you did. Your zest for living a full and curiously-driven life was contagious and a great example to all who met you of how to live graciously and with gratitude. I wish I had known you better, kept in touch more after TC. Goodnight, sweet Prince. Go have pun with the Bard now.
Shannon Oksman
February 9, 2017
"Those whom we have loved and lost are not where they once were. They are now wherever we are". In my heart always my dear cousin.
Marie Browne
February 9, 2017
John, words can't describe how my heart hurts right now. I know I am not alone in saying you were the best teacher and mentor I've ever had. Your passion for Shakespeare was contagious and your eternal optimism armed countless students with the idealism to face the uncertainties and harsh realities of teaching. You were my friend. You celebrated one of the best days of my life with me and always seemed excited to hear from me with updates about life or whatever advice I was soliciting. You were (and will always be) what I aspire to be as an educator. You will be missed more than words can express.
Diandra D'Amico
February 9, 2017
I am so sad to hear that John is gone from us. The TC community was greatly enriched by his good humor, deep love of teaching, his unwavering devotion to students...and his booming voice and laugh! He has been missed, he will always be missed.
Lin Goodwin
February 9, 2017
I am so incredibly saddened by this news. John and I worked together briefly while I was a graduate student at Teachers College. He was one of the most humane, decent, kind, friendly people I'd ever met. He had a beautiful and calm way of being in an intense, demanding world. I am profoundly grateful for his presence in my life--and in the many, many lives he impacted. He loved deeply and well. He was an inspiration. A blessing.
H. Elizabeth Smith
February 9, 2017
Thank you for your guidance and support through my time at TC, John! You helped me through a tragic loss and a debilitating fire and you were always there to offer help and support. Thank you, thank you for everything. You will be dearly missed.
Elyse Arrington-Hiti
February 8, 2017
Dear Gillian, We were shocked & saddened to hear of your Dad's passing. He was such an accomplished individual & a loving father & grandfather. We will remember him in our prayers.
Love & hugs, Tommie & Bob.
Tommie & Bob Burke
February 8, 2017
Dr. Browne breathed new life into Shakespeare, and instilled in us, his students a passion for literature that we intern were able to extend. Watching my students grow in confidence as I drew from Dr. Browne made my job worthwhile. His dedication humor, and attentiveness made him truly one of the best. He will be tremendously missed.
Casey Windisch
February 8, 2017
He was such a fun professor! He made me love Shakespeare.
Meliki Addison
February 8, 2017
Graduation, May 2014
John helped me gain confidence as a teacher, showed me how to teach Shakespeare, was a great counselor, and he always had a plethora of knowledge and advice to offer. When I decided to embark on a completely different career from teaching, he never hesitated to write me multiple recommendations and offer his guidance and support. I will always remember him fondly as someone who deeply cared about his students, was dedicated to helping them grow and who was very supportive as I transitioned through a different path.
Jenny Cortes
February 8, 2017
We know what we are,
but know not what we may be

John, you lived your dream
you will be missed.

Marge and Jim Colavito
February 8, 2017
John Browne helped me to see Shakespeare in a new, exciting, and creative way. His teaching of Shakespeare was relevant, playful, and accessible to all, and I've carried this into my own classroom. He was so kind and compassionate. He was an inspiration who will forever live on in our classrooms. TC 2006-07
February 8, 2017
I am one of the countless English teachers who John Browne had a profound effect on. John is the only reason I teach Shakespeare and the only reason my students get to perform modern renditions of Shakespeare for the rest of the school (filled with rap battles, puppets, and costume changes).

Last year, I went through one of the most difficult decisions of my life: leaving New York and a job offer from my dream school in order to be happier personally in Boston. While I blubbered and cried, he told me, "Jamie, you have to be old to make a mistake. You are only 12 years old. You can't make any mistakes." His unique humor and love made him an great mentor.

He was a profound teacher. I only hope that his family is comforted by the fact that there is a teacher in MA like me, along with countless others who teach differently because of John, with more heart and love (and more Shakespeare). In all the lives I hope to change, John will take a part.
Jamie Schefen
February 8, 2017
John, the others have said it all... I would only like to add: May the road rise to meet you...And may God hold you in the palm of his hand.
Gary Keenan. Fellow Jasper '73
Gary Keenan
February 8, 2017
What a warm, gentle, intelligent man. He was my first guide through the study of education. He made me laugh, question everything, but most of all, he made me feel worthy of following my passion. He knew how to make anyone and everyone feel special.
Michelle Yoo
February 8, 2017
John will be missed, may his memories be a blessing, bringing comfort to mourning ones as he R.I.P
February 7, 2017
Rest in Peace you amazing Man. Thank you so much.
Sean Glenn
February 7, 2017
Twelve years ago, I sat in John's Teaching of Shakespeare course and was convinced he was the Dumbledore of the Hogwarts I always wanted to attend. His magical qualities are in fact so real: harnessing hope, spreading joy, and transforming the lives of each and every one of his students.

John, I will never forget your warm emails, your post-it scribbles of book/play/movie/author/summer program recommendations, your gigantic hugs, your delirious happiness when showing photos of Lilah and Kaela, your empathy during our catch-up-in-your-office visits, your quiet moments of reflection in between bursts of laughter and more laughter.

I am forever in your army of teachers and arm myself with all the loving memories of you.
Nicole Chu
February 7, 2017
Shakespeare and teaching generated our friendship. Knowing him for the past 17 years is a blessing. I remember his laughter, his kindness, his marvelous sense of humor, and his compassion . I miss him now, and I won't forget him. When the NEH group gets together again, I know his spirit will be smiling. He will live in our hearts.
Ellen McCaffrey
February 7, 2017
May you rest in peace Mr.Browne. You were a wonderful teacher..
Jackie Ahern
February 7, 2017
Condolences to everyone who knew him. John Browne always lit the way at TCCU. Even after I left, he and I would meet up for coffee. He had a heart of gold. He may be gone but his light lives on.
Saba Ebrahim
February 7, 2017
I will never forgot John's laughter and levity. It was enormously joyful being in his presence. I will miss him greatly. My condolences to his family.
Laura Strausfeld
February 7, 2017
As a mentor, teacher, friend, and human, there is no equal. There are no good words to express the loss...but so many to express the love. Love to his beloved family and friends.
Andrea Simon
February 7, 2017
I was very sad to hear the news.

I took the teaching of Shakespeare class with John. He was an inspiring teacher in every way: the way he presented, his clear dedication and his enormous capacity for making everyone feel valued.

Before he retired from Tc - I was always happy to chat with John on campus, and despite his many commitments he never seemed in too much of a rush to talk. His larger than life personality has been taken too soon.
Ruth Aman
February 7, 2017
He was the rarest of educators: Eloquent, warm, insightful, erudite, and a tremendous earthy humor. I was very privileged to have him during my sophomore year. When I first saw him I thought he was a lumberjack (He was around 6'4", he had a thick graying beard, and wore a rugged flannel shirt). As the semester progressed he skillfully immersed us in the classics, and guided us through deep literary analysis and writing. Such a pro! As we grew to know him more we saw the purity of his soul, we all realized he loved his profession and treated us all with fatherly affection. This is why he will be dearly missed.
Tom Gronroos
February 7, 2017
My thoughts are with John's family, friends, and the TC community during this sad time; may there be a grain of comfort in knowing how many lives his kind heart and generous spirit have touched; may memories bring solace and peace.
Mia Corvino
February 7, 2017
John was truly the best teacher I've ever had. He lit up a room; he inspired. He was a joy to be around, and I loved every minute I spent in his classroom, in his office, chatting and laughing about teaching, students, this and that. I was thrilled to hear from him over the decade since I first had the honor of taking his Teaching of Shakespeare class. Truly, John was one of the loveliest, funniest, most compassionate human beings I've ever met, and I will miss him.
Jess Berkeley
February 7, 2017
I'm not sure I ever would have graduated with high honors from Teacher's College were it not for Professor Browne's diligence with keeping me focused and believing in the absolute best in me! I also never thought I was capable of memorizing so many lines from Hamlet were he not sure his students had capacities beyond their imaginations ;D lol. What a cool freaking guy, and one of the best parts of my graduate school experience. God bless you, John, and may a hundred thousand angels Guide You In. XO Love, Gretchen
Gretchen Turner
February 7, 2017
Thank you for everything. Love and prayers to your family. Your legacy lives in our classrooms; I hope we do you justice.
Rosanne English
February 7, 2017
John Browne was perhaps one of the most inspiring human beings I have known in my life. He was an incredible mentor and a master teacher to all of us. Everything I am today as teacher, I owe to him. He loved all of us, and he taught us all to lead with love in our own classrooms. I am devastated to learn of his passing. I will miss my dear friend, and a piece of him will always rest in my heart. Namaste, John. xo
Kimberly Hayes
February 7, 2017
John and I became friends when we shared the same office as teachers at LaGuardia Community College. That was over 20 years ago, and since then he has been a constant source of wisdom, humor, and strength. Everyone who met him liked him; everyone and everything he touched he made better. I know that the cloud that shadowed him during his last days had an angel in it.
John Borrillo
February 7, 2017
Thank you for teaching the art of words to so many of us at A&D. Condolences to Mr. Browne's family and friends. Rest in Peace. Class of '85
Mary (Yelle) McQuillan
February 7, 2017
I am the teacher I am today in large part because of this wonderful man. He taught me how to teach Shakespeare, poetry and reading, but more importantly he taught me how to teach with humanity, humor and kindness. He placed me in a high school in Brooklyn for a semester of student teaching where I was mistaken daily for a student by campus security and where through Alden Brown I reconnected with Michael Greenberg and secured my first paid teaching job. Forever grateful.
John Browne, thank you for the evenings on the stage at Teachers College, for presenting student centered strategies in action and for the laughter. Hate that you are gone too soon. You'd love what my students are doing as I type this... prepping their mythological love charades. Proud to be one of the masses you've inspired who could fill Yankee Stadium. Rest well.
Danielle Dally Brigman
February 7, 2017
I'll never forget him. He was one of the BEST teachers I ever had in my entire educational journey. Funny, warm, attentive. It was an honor to have him as a teacher...
Michele Martinez
February 7, 2017
'99 Shakespeare Crew - Summer, 2015
John was my fellow student and roommate during a National Endowment for the Humanities summer seminar on Shakespeare in 1999. John, the other teachers in the program, and I became fast friends and have met every other summer since to enjoy Shakespeare festivals and other theater across North America. John was an integral and energizing member of our group. His insight, humor, and generosity will be long and fondly remembered by all of us. John lived life to its very fullest, and he will ever walk with us in our hearts. Oh, to hear him laugh once more.
Brad Larson
February 7, 2017
Mr.Browne was my favorite teacher at Art and Design. He showed us endless respect and brought the complexity of James Joyce, and Shakespeare to inner city kids. He was the reason so many of us fell in love with literature. He made a difference for more students than he can ever imagine. RIP Tsui Yuen -Pappas Class of 1985
February 7, 2017
You taught me so much during and after my year at TC. Thank you for believing in me.
Jamie Rasmussen
February 7, 2017
Last April there was a celebration party for John, and I think the best I can do is to reiterate what I said then: John Browne embodied everything that is warm and everything that is witty - sheer unexpected and charming anarchy dressed in respectable clothing. All he had to do was stand in front of the class, and the laughter and love would start flowing. John was simply universally loved, for the simplest and best of reasons: he was humane, constantly thoughtful, and sharply witty, all with a heart so transparently kind, warm and true that the ethos literally emanated from him. Nothing but respect and love, from Gregory Grene, and unanimously from every student I know.
Gregory Grene
February 7, 2017
The Manhattan College alumni community shares the grief, and is now praying for our fellow alumni and the family at this time. The Alumni Office has been informed. As well as the Jasper Jottings community that I personally can reach. We are all a little poorer now. "No man is an island, entire of itself ... any mans death diminishes me". We are sorry for your loss.
fjohn reinke (mc1968)
February 7, 2017
John was an amazing educator, but even more - he was an unparalleled advocate and friend. Our love, our thoughts, and our prayers to comfort everyone in this time of need.
Andrew Ravin
February 7, 2017
one of the kindest, most generous and wickedly funny people I have ever known. R.I.P. John, you will be remembered by the countless students whose lives you touched.
Bill Lundgren
February 7, 2017
My thoughts and prayers are with the family for the loss of your loved one.
May the "Father of tender mercies" be with the family and friends, during and after these difficult times.
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