Webster University trustee Laurance Browning, 83, dies


President Elizabeth Stroble first met Laurance (Larry) Browning Jr. when she began her tenure at Webster University in the summer of 2009. After the initial meeting, Stroble said she grew to respect and admire Browning and his wife, Virginia (Jinny) Browning, for their generosity in the St. Louis community — specifically at Webster.

Laurance Browning

“As a Webster trustee, Larry Browning held a number of leadership roles. His longstanding commitment to the university’s success resulted in his designation as a life trustee,” Stroble said in a statement.

Laurance Browning, 83, was a lifetime trustee on Webster’s Board of Trustees. He died at his home in Maysville, Ky., on Sunday, Dec. 2. Browning is survived by his wife of almost 60 years, Virginia, three daughters, seven granddaughters, one grandson and one great-granddaughter, according to Webster Today, the university’s blog.

Browning made his fortune at Emerson Electric Co. in St. Louis as the executive vice president and chief administration officer, according to the St. Louis Beacon. He later became vice chairman and a director of the company. He retired in 2005.

Browning became a member on Webster’s Board of Trustees in 1986 and was named lifetime trustee in 2005.  He served as chair of the board from 1992-1993.

“He had a reputation for asking tough questions,” Stroble said. “What was obvious in his questions was a genuine interest in the university’s success.  His questions honed our thinking and made us better.”

Browning’s charitable contributions helped establish several of Webster’s most prominent fixtures. A $1 million donation from the Brownings funded the expansion of the Loretto-Hilton Center for the Performing Arts. In honor of the couple’s charity, the main stage theatre was christened the Virginia Jackson Browning Theatre.

An additional $2 million from the Brownings was used for construction projects at the Webster Vienna campus. The large donation also funded Webster’s endowment and updates to Webster Groves High School facilities, according to Webster’s archives.

The Brownings were instrumental in the construction of Emerson Library, according to Webster Today. Furthermore, the envisioned interdisciplinary science building will be named Browning Hall, in honor of the couple.

The Brownings, along with former Webster president Leigh Gerdine and his wife Alice Gerdine, also founded the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, according to Webster’s archives.

“I will always remember the twinkle in his eye and the smile that would curl upon his lip when he heard the latest good news about Webster,” Stroble said. “That he loved Webster there is no doubt. We and future generations of this beloved university community are his benefactors.”

Services will be held Thursday, Dec. 6 at 11 a.m. at First Presbyterian Church in Maysville, Ky. Memorial contributions can be made to Hospice of Hope or the Tom Browning Boys and Girls Club.

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