Ray Browne, 71

Ray Browne, fought for D.C. voting rights, dies at 71

In addition to being a civic activist, Ray Browne started his own insurance company.
In addition to being a civic activist, Ray Browne started his own insurance company. (Family Photo)
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By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ray Browne, 71, who as the District's shadow representative for six years tirelessly lobbied Congress for statehood or for a member of Congress who could vote on the House floor, died of lung cancer Feb. 13 at his home in Washington.

Mr. Browne, a Georgetown resident who founded an insurance company, was first elected to the unpaid, nonvoting position in 2001 and began working to get D.C. voters full representation in Congress. The current delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), can vote in committee but not when a bill goes to the House floor.

"We're not going to get two seats in the Senate. It's not going to happen. And there's no point in my going up there and being detached from reality," Mr. Browne said in 2004. "We've got a chance to get a seat in the House. [Virginia Republican Rep.] Tom Davis wants to do this. He's got a poll from his district showing they favor it 60-40. . . . There are no certainties, but we're far improved over where we were."

Through the work of Norton, Davis and Mr. Browne, the House passed the D.C. voting rights cause in 2007, but the measure fell three votes short of the 60 needed for the Senate to consider it.

The effort cost Mr. Browne money out of his own pocket. His position's primary mission was to lobby for D.C. statehood, but Congress limited the ability of Mr. Browne and the city's two shadow senators to spend public money toward that goal. In 2004, he suggested, and the D.C. Council agreed, to create a statehood fund to pay for the delegation's administrative expenses.

Mr. Browne, a native Washingtonian, graduated from Osbourn High School in Manassas, where his family had moved. He was on the track team at the University of Maryland. He worked as a general agent for the Aetna insurance company in West Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania before returning to his home town in 1981.

He started an insurance company and became a civic activist, serving as an advisory neighborhood commissioner, a member of the Neighborhood Planning Council and a mediator for the D.C. Superior Court.

Mr. Browne was also a vice chairman of the Hurt Home board, which oversees a residential treatment center for severely emotionally disturbed youths. He was on the Mayor's Commission on Alcoholism and the District's drug strategy team.

While running unsuccessfully as an independent for a spot on the D.C. Council in 1990, he called for Marion Barry to withdraw from the campaign to focus on his drug-abuse recovery.

Mr. Browne, who ran more than a dozen marathons, coached middle school cross-country and track at National Cathedral School.

Survivors include his wife of 30 years, Barbara Lee Andrus Browne of Washington; two children, Ray Browne II of Arlington County and Molly Lee Browne Lynch of Chicago; his mother, Helen Browne of Charlotte; a brother, Robert Browne of Arlington; and a sister, Katherine Browne of Charlotte.

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