Browning Marean, Rounding Third and Being Thrown Out At Home

The post below is reposted from Techno Gumbo with author Tom O’Connor’s permission.  Browning Marean, whom I had the pleasure of knowing, was the kindest man in legal tech and is sadly missed.  Tom’s visit to ILTACON stirred up his memories of Browning, albeit the post below.  Enjoy!

The 2 and Only

Tom O’Connor and Browning Marean

Later this week, Gayle and I will be heading to ILTACON18. And in making our travel plans, I began thinking of Browning. He and I had been going to ILTA conferences since they were VSLUG meetings, back when the two of us first met in San Diego.

Browning left us in 2014, right at the same time as an ILTA conference, and it still seems like it happened last week.  To say he was friend of mine doesn’t even begin to describe that relationship and his absence feels like how Shoeless Joe Jackson described getting thrown out of baseball in Field of Dreams: “it was like having part of me amputated”, Still.

Numerous people wrote about how they felt when he passed. If you want to capture the sentiment at the time I’d suggest you read Craig Balls tribute or that written by Chris Dale on his site  or the words of Ralph Losey.

I’d tell you to look at my thoughts at the same but since I wrote them for ALM, they were somehow grabbed by the fine folks at Lexis and put behind a paywall so you can only read what I wrote if you have a Lexis subscription. I refuse to give them a dime to read an obituary I wrote for my pal and I have posted the original at the end of this piece.

But here on the anniversary of his passing, I’ve asked a few of his friends to tell us what he meant to them.  I started, as I always do when looking for inspiration, with Gayle. She told me she always thinks about how he had a big smile and bigger hug when he saw her and how he always made her feel “part of” not just the conversation but the entire legal community.

Other thoughts came quickly:

“A mischievous sparkle in his right eye. More pithy sayings than any person has the right to know. Browning in the lobby with his Tilly hat and rain jacket, ready for a power walk somehow always ending at the best pub you ever wanted to visit.  And friends.  Friends everywhere.  Everyone knew Browning (no need for a surname).  Everyone wanted to be with Browning.  And everyone was special, truly special, to Browning.”

– George Socha

“Browning is missed everyday by me and overall within Today’s General Counsel Magazine and Institute. As one of the creators of our “Exchange” interactive programs, we honor what he has helped us achieve and his contributions are recognized at the start of each of our programs.  A true friend in every regard of the word.”

– Neil Signore

“Although he and I worked at competing law firms, for many years Browning had a huge positive influence on my career.  At a couple crucial junctures, he took the time to mentor and support me.  Especially when I co-chair conferences in a unique format that he pioneered, I miss him dearly.

– Robert Brownstone

“ILTA’s scholarships in Browning Marean’s name are a fitting tribute to a man who inspired many of us who talk and write about eDiscovery. It was not just the law and practice – though there was plenty of that – but Browning was the best communicator I knew.”

“Browning showed that you can be interesting and light-hearted about serious subjects so that audiences absorbed knowledge without realising it. He went out of his way to encourage others, especially younger people, to take part in panels and webinars. He mixed naturally and easily with everyone from judges to the rawest recruit. I still miss him.”

– Chris Dale

“It’s been four years since we lost Browning Marean.  It feels like forever…and yesterday.  I think and speak of him often.  Every day I feel his absence in the arc of e-discovery since his death on August 22, 2014.  Browning witnessed law’s transformation from esteemed profession to big business.  His career from local litigator to global presence was emblematic of that sea change.  Browning dutifully served the consolidation even as he mourned what it had done to his firm and to law practice generally.  Perhaps the monster snuck up on us for the very reason that good and decent men like Browning were its face.”

“I miss Browning’s face at the many events where he was a welcoming, warming presence.  His attendance was assurance that courtesy, camaraderie and mischief had also arrived.  He connected people and empowered them.  He bridged the old and new with a smile and kind word.  Often, I ask myself, “how can I be more like Browning?”  The answer always points in  a better direction.”

– Craig Ball

“Browning was an excellent attorney, technologist, communicator and motivator. But as good as he was at all that, he was even better at being a human who celebrates life.”

– Bill Speros

“Browning had a special gift. He was able to present e-discovery in a soft, approachable way. Of course e-discovery is difficult and important, but Browning also made us laugh and that encouraged everyone –lawyers, clients, professionals — to dig into together.  I recall his quip that he always had a defibrillator ready when discussing e-discovery costs with clients!  Browning made sure the weight of e-discovery was always lighter.”

– Bill Hamilton

And this last remembrance is from Paul Weiner.  We read it at the Second Line for Browning that we did in New Orleans after his death.  Paul couldn’t make it but he sent this and asked that I read it … I did so on a balcony overlooking Bourbon Street with food and music and friends all around.  A real New Orleans funeral. I think Browning would have liked that.

The 2nd line hits Bourbon Street (002)

2nd Line Celebration of Browning Marean in the New Orleans French Quarter

Paul wrote:

“I first met Browning through Laura Kibbe who had invited me to participate in a West LegalWorks conference.  When I asked Laura on what topic I would be speaking she told me: “Reach out to Browning, and he’ll take it from there.”

“When I first connected with Browning on the phone, we had the most wonderful conversation where he asked me all about myself and when he found out I was a voracious reader, gave me some recommendations of books to read.  He also briefly noted that my panel would be on the use of Special Masters in eDiscovery.  I asked whether we should prepare an outline and schedule some prep calls with the other panelists?  Browning’s response: “I don’t like my panels to ‘peak too soon’; we can get together at the conference.”

“Fast forward to the conference.  The night before: no prep.  At breakfast: no prep.  During lunch: no prep.  Because I am an über-“Type A” personality who over prepares for everything – especially public speaking – I was now getting nervous.  About five minutes before we were set to take the stage, Browning called all of us together and said, “By now you all probably have gleaned that I believe in ‘just-in-time preparation’.” Pointing at each of  us, he continued, “You’ll cover topic A, you’ll cover topic B and you’ll cover topic C.” We then went on stage … and Browning proceeded to ask each of us questions about totally different topics than the ones he had just identified.  But you know what?  The panel was GREAT.  DYNAMIC.  INFORMATIVE. Instead of pre-planned scripts and talking points, we actually had a dialogue with spontaneous interaction.  And because we were so engaged, the audience was as well.  Furthermore, because of Browning’s great skill as a moderator, there was never a lull in the conversation.  Although I may not have fully appreciated it, Browning knew each of us on the panel actually knew the subject matter and could handle this format, and we covered the essential teaching points that would have emerged had we prepped for weeks on end. ”

“While I am still a firm believer in (over) preparation, Browning taught me that oftentimes life is about “just-in-time” preparation,  both from a professional standpoint (like when a client calls with a pressing issue that needs immediate attention, or when a Judge puts you on the spot during oral argument, or when a witness opens up an unexpected line of inquiry that can turn a case during a deposition), as well as from a personal standpoint (like when a friend calls and needs your help, or when a family member has an unexpected moment to celebrate, or when your daughter walks for the first time and you take the morning off to laugh and play with her despite the pressures of your career). ”

“Just as importantly, Browning was a total class act.  He was selfless, witty, brilliant, kind and a gentleman.  I will miss laughing for hours with him over drinks and dinner, his thought-leadership and his friendship.  However, I will also continue to remember a great lesson from a great man that sometimes “just-in-time” preparation is the best way to live your life.”

So Browning, we’ll miss you my friend, but none of us will ever forget you.

gayle at second line

Gayle O’Connor holds a picture of Browning Marean during the 2nd Line parade in the French Quarter

And, as promised, here’s what I wrote right after Browning died

When the great Irish poet Yeats died, W.H. Auden wrote a commemorative poem with the refrain “… the day he died was a cold dark day.”  When I heard of Browning’s death, it was 96 and humid in New Orleans but my mind immediately went to a cold dark place. Bil Kellerman said losing him was like losing a brother and it was. But I felt, and continue to feel, more like Shoeless Joe Jackson in the Field of Dreams when he told Ray Kinsella that “Getting thrown out of baseball was like having part of me amputated.”

I feel like that. Like some vital part of me is gone.

Because Browning was more than just a colleague to me. He was my friend.  For nearly 25 years.

We met in San Diego at the wonderful  tech conference that Stuart Hubbard (now with Epiq) used to put on every 4th of July at the Hotel Del Coronado. It was a wonderful show …… I met Neil Aresty there and Michael Arkfeld and Anne Kemp.  I had just moved to San Diego to help a firm install Summation (the DOS version) and ended up staying to help them convert a Wang network to Novell. Browning was at Gray Carey fending off complaints from his fellow partners that he had been seen by associates typing on his personal computer.

But technology wasn’t what led to our friendship.  In fact we were an unlikely pair. He was, as Craig Ball noted, a patrician Yankee from New England. I was a working class Irish guy from south Boston. He was a WASP. I was Catholic. He liked to quote Shakespeare, I dropped lines from The Boss. He was a Republican (yikes) …  I was a die-hard Democrat.

But two things led to our friendship. We were both world class smart asses, way too smart for our own good.  We were witty and pretty and …… well you know. Despite his mostly well-spoken demeanor, he would often erupt in a blaze of vulgarity worthy of Bull Halsey and refer to these outbursts as the appearance of his evil twin brother Skippy. As in, “I was listening to him speak thinking what a stupid SOB he was when, lord love a duck, up popped Skippy and let him have it with both barrels.”

These outburst were legendary with vendors who crossed his path or more importantly made life difficult for his staff and a dictionary of his most popular  phrases was actually used by several law firms as their way of checking emails for inappropriate content.  He was singularly proud of that.

But our true bonding occurred when he learned that I was a fan of Bob and Ray.  Actually I think he liked me the minute he realized I KNEW about Bob and Ray. The Two and Only …  New England comic legends. Think Bob Newhart but even more sardonic and more laid back.  And two of him. We would talk incessantly about characters like Wally Ballou, an inept news reporter “and winner of 16 diction awards” or sportscaster Biff Burns (“This is Biff Burns saying this is Biff Burns saying goodnight”) . He particularly liked their commercial sets such as  “Gerstmeyer’s Puppy Kibbles, the dog food guaranteed to turn any pet into a vicious man-killer”.

His favorite was the interview with the President and Recording Secretary of the Slow Talkers of America. He played a recording of that piece on his laptop in the lobby of a hotel one evening and we were both literally doubled over, laughing, gasping for breath, tears running down our faces and squealing like two little girls. A staff member came over and asked us to “please quiet down or retire to your room”. We looked at each other and erupted in another uncontrolled fit of hilarity. We weren’t staying at that hotel!

But he wasn’t all wise cracks and belly laughs. I’d  be remiss if I didn’t mention several other qualities which Browning pretty much kept to himself. He was from New England, where good fences make good neighbors. He was a man of great faith but he didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve or beat you over the head with it. It was his faith not yours.  I’m not a bible thumper myself  but in thinking of him I think of Acts 11:24, “He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith…”.

He loved his family but wasn’t one to show pictures or talk of family vacations. Thank God.  Yet whenever he mentioned his wife, even in passing, a look came into his eyes and a tone came into his voice that anyone who has been in love with another person for a long, long time would recognize immediately.

And he had a sense of old school manners and social propriety that were very New England.  He loved the fact that I would open car doors for Gayle or stand when a woman came to the dinner table.  He once became so incensed at a fellow panelist of mine at a Masters Conference session ( and I am beating back my own personal Skippy to not name names here) who kept referring to our moderator, Judge John Facciola, as “John” that he stood up, glared at the person and walked out of the room. When I asked him later if he had spoken to the person, he said “No I was going to give him a piece of my mind but I couldn’t spare one and I didn’t think he’d know what to do with it.”

So as I’m writing this Gayle walked by and mentioned, “oh, this is just the time of day Browning would call you”.  On his morning commute into San Diego (which as Chris Dale noted was often only a brief stop on his travel itinerary) he would call friends because we were, as he put it, “smarter than most of the talk radio I can get here”.  We would talk about everything from how long it took the British navy to disperse citrus fruits throughout their entire fleet to cure scurvy (42 years) to whatever happened to wearing hats that didn’t have a sports logo.  We talked about the sea and our wives and our friends and Ted Williams and, as the great Walter Mosely had Easy Rollins say at the end of the novel Devil In A Blue Dress,  “we talked and laughed a long, long time…”

So I’m tempted to say something like “good night sweet prince” but he’d hate me sucking up to him like that. And he’d say so.  No he wouldn’t want us making a big fuss about his life or his death. As Marc Lauritsen tweeted this morning  “He’d exhort those of us still living to cherish each other.”    As we say in New Orleans, “Yeah you right Marc.”

Last year when Ross Kodner died, I walked around ILTA telling my friends I cherished their friendship and wanted to be sure they knew that BEFORE they died. So go do that. Tell all your friends how much they mean to you. Today. While you can .

I regret so much that I didn’t get to speak to him one last time.  Bruce said it in a song,  “I wished I would have known. I wished I could have called you. Just to say goodbye”.

But like Browning, Yeats wanted no fuss over his life or death.  The Irishman had these words written on his headstone in a remote cemetery on a country road in Ireland where people pass by every day, words from one of his last poems that I think Browning would endorse:

“Cast a cold eye

On life, on death.

Horseman, pass by.”

Oh, and write if you get work Browning.

 

~ by CDLB on August 17, 2018.

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