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James Clayton Browne

Obituary for James Clayton Browne

January 16, 1935 - January 19, 2018
Austin, Texas | Age 83


James Clayton Browne, "Jim Browne" to almost all who met him more than once, died peacefully surrounded by his family on Friday, January 19th. He is preceded in death by his father Walter, sister Mary Alice and brother Walter Jr. Survivors include his wife Gayle, son Clayton Browne, son Duncan Browne, and daughter Valerie Bradley.

Jim Browne greatly enjoyed spending time with his grandchildren Vanessa Browne, Megan Bradley, Nickolas Bradley, Duncan James "DJ" Browne, Jr., Austin Browne, and Seth Bradley.

He and Gayle were married on July 11th, 1959, and they would have celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary later this year.

He graduated from Conway High School in 1952, received a BS in Chemistry from Hendrix College in 1956 and a PhD in Physical Chemistry from the University of Texas at Austin in 1960. He joined the UT faculty in Physics in 1960, was a Professor of Computer Science at Queen's University of Belfast from 1965 through 1967, and became a tenured professor at UT in 1968.

Jim first heard about "computers" in 1956, and his relentless intellectual curiosity led him to become an elder statesman of the discipline of computer science. He explained to his children and grandchildren he had to use an abacus and slide rule to calculate electron orbits as part of his dissertation research, so when he heard about these amazing new "calculating devices" called computers, he was immediately interested. This interest led to a distinguished career in computer science spanning six decades, including being one of the first faculty members of UT's Department of Computer Science founded in 1966.

Jim and Gayle moved to Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1963 to help Queens University set up their first real computational center. Although the Brownes were originally scheduled to live in Belfast for a year, Jim quickly became indispensable at Queens, and the family ended up staying in Northern Ireland until 1967.

After the Browne family returned home to Austin, Jim rejoined the UT faculty, became a permanent member of the UT computer committee, and served as the chairperson of the Computer Science Department for a number of years. Jim was the supervisor or co-supervisor for the graduate studies of 68 Ph.D. students and 65 master's degree students and for a substantial number of undergraduate honors theses. The vast majority of these students went on to successful careers in academia or business.

A devoted husband and father, Jim was known both for his unyielding strength of character and a soft spot for anyone truly in need. Over the years, he literally gave away tens of thousands of dollars to desperate graduate students and family members dealing with serious personal and medical issues.
Jim was a "nerd" before the term was invented. He wore shirts with two pockets filled with pens, glasses and the like from the 1950s until the 1970s when his kids grew old enough to talk a small modicum of fashion sense into him. Self-consciousness was not even on the radar for this sharp-as-a-tack country bumpkin from Conway, Arkansas. He was too busy doing important things like writing a program to help astronomers detect double-binary black holes or heading up the grant-writing team to bring the latest generation of supercomputer to UT Austin.

Jim was a committed caregiver to his wife Gayle for the last three years of his life. His devotion to Gayle and her needs was truly an inspiration to all who knew them. He loved her more than life itself in a very literal sense.

In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the James C. Browne Graduate Fellowship Fund in Computer Science at the University of Texas at Austin.

Since his death, family and friends have been sharing and enjoying stories and laughter about Jim Browne. Join us for more of the same at Westwood Country Club on Saturday, February 10th from 4 to 6 pm. Refreshments will be served. A wake will also be held for Jim on February 11th at the Rathgeber/Browne river house on the Guadalupe River in New Braunfels (1366 Sleepy Hollow Lane), one of Jim's favorite places.

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Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705
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