Robert Span Browne

Economist, Self-Help Expert

Robert Span Browne, an economist steeped in the radical politics of the 1960s who later founded three black self-help organizations and became an expert on African economic development, died of heart disease Aug. 5 at the Helen Hayes Hospital in West Haverstraw, N.Y.

Mr. Browne was an early protester of the U.S. government's involvement in Vietnam, which he witnessed as an employee of the U.S. Agency for International Development stationed in Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

From 1961 on, he spoke against the war before peace organizations, political groups, labor unions and churches, and he published letters and articles. He helped launch the 1966 national college teach-in on Vietnam. He ran for the U.S. Senate from New Jersey as an independent in 1966 on an anti-Vietnam platform that was especially opposed to African Americans going to combat against other people of color. He withdrew six weeks before the election, disappointed that his candidacy did not lead the state to a mammoth teach-in about the war.

By the late 1960s, Mr. Browne shifted his focus to the economic development of African Americans. He participated in the National Conference on Black Power in New Jersey in 1967, where a resolution called for discussion of partitioning the United States into two sovereign entities, one white, one black. He explained the controversial issue in a series of articles for national magazines and thus became associated with the radical separatist ideology.

Mr. Browne taught international affairs at a number of black colleges, and from 1964 to 1972 was an instructor and assistant professor of economics at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, while also serving as an adjunct professor of economics at Rutgers University. At Rutgers, he developed a course on the economics of the ghetto.

He founded three national black self-help organizations: The Black Economic Research Center, in 1969, a center of applied research that garnered the services of black economists for black economic development projects and published a journal, "The Review of Black Political Economy"; the Emergency Land Fund, in 1971, dedicated to reversing the decline in black land ownership in the South; and the still-operating Twenty-First Century Foundation, in 1971, an endowed public foundation based in New York that advances strategic black philanthropy.

Appointed as the first executive director to the African Development Bank, based in the Ivory Coast, in 1980, Mr. Browne was also a senior research fellow of African studies at Howard University in the mid-1980s and a Ford Foundation research fellow there in 1992. He also was staff director of the subcommittee on international finance of the House Committee on Banking, Finance and Urban Affairs from 1986 to 1991, where he worked on issues related to the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and Third World debt.

He lived in Washington from the mid-1980s until earlier this year, when he moved to Teaneck, N.J.

Mr. Browne was born in Chicago and studied economics at the University of Illinois in 1944. In 1947, he received a master's in business administration from the University of Chicago. He continued his studies at the London School of Economics and later completed all course work toward his doctorate at the City University of New York.

Mr. Browne started his career teaching at Dillard University in New Orleans in 1947 and was industrial field secretary for the Chicago Urban League from 1950 to 1952. After traveling the world on his own, he joined the U.S. Agency for International Development in Cambodia from 1955 to 1958, and in Vietnam from 1958 to 1961.

After semi-retirement in 1993, Mr. Browne became an economic consultant for Washington-based organizations, including Africare, the Congressional Black Caucus and the Institute for Policy Studies. He also served as Jesse Jackson's adviser on economic policy during his 1984 campaign for the presidency and made a presentation on U.S.-Africa policy at the economic summit in Little Rock shortly after the 1992 presidential election.

Survivors include his wife, Huoi Nguyen of Teaneck; four children; a sister; and a grandson.

Gypsy Boots

Health Food Guru

Gypsy Boots, known to several generations of Southern Californians as a fig-chomping, garlic-gobbling health food enthusiast who sold organic fruit to celebrities and carried his playful message about wholesome eating to football halftime shows, farmers markets and other venues, died Aug. 8 at a convalescent home in Camarillo, Calif. No cause of death was reported.

He was believed to be 89, said his son Daniel Bootzin. But Boots, reversing a well-worn Hollywood tradition, probably would have added a few more years: When he celebrated his birthday three years ago, he claimed to be 91.

His family viewed the discrepancy as a mild exaggeration that Boots, the self-described "Ageless Athlete," believed "helped his case" that a healthy diet promoted longevity, Bootzin said.

No exaggeration was necessary for the zany zealot who downed watercress and wheatgrass like others gobble M&Ms and chips. In his sixties, Boots could throw a football farther than many men half his age. In his seventies, he had groupies: a band of young fitness-conscious women called the Nature Girls. In his eighties, he was still a joyful nonconformist, ringing his signature cowbell from the sidelines at University of Southern California football games in an outlandish outfit topped with a kooky cardboard crown and chanting his mantra: "Don't panic, go organic; get in cahoots with Gypsy Boots."

A longtime Hollywood resident who moved to Camarillo about 15 years ago, Boots lectured at health shows and entertained at health-food emporiums. He was a regular at Lakers, Raiders and Dodgers games, where he waved signs, devoured bananas and pranced with his Nature Girls. It was all done in the service of his philosophy, which involved organic eating, exercise and a lust for life.

"A lot of people see me and say, 'Oh, you're living!' " he told the Los Angeles Times in 1986. "Some thought I died, and some thought I went in a nuthouse. And the people who thought I was nuts are in the nuthouse. And me, who acted nutty, I've got to be doing something right."

He was born Robert Bootzin, the child of poor Russian immigrants, in San Francisco. His father was a broom peddler; his mother raised four children in a vegetarian household. A free spirit, she fed the homeless her homemade black bread, led the family on hikes in the hills and performed wild Russian folk dances.

When his older brother John died of tuberculosis as a young man, Boots let his hair grow long and became a devotee of healthful, natural living -- unorthodox, to say the least, for a teenager in the 1940s. He dropped out of high school and left home to wander California with a group of self-styled vagabonds.

Boots married Lois Bloemker, a conservative, academic young woman from Fort Wayne, Ind., in 1958 and started a family in Los Angeles. They were divorced about five years ago.

In 1962, Boots became a regular guest on "The Steve Allen Show," rubbing elbows with such stars as Gene Kelly, Dean Martin and Marlon Brando. He made his entrance in a loincloth, swinging on a vine. Then he would dispense his philosophy, talk Allen into milking a goat on stage or whip up a strange organic brew.

Boots also wrote a book called "Bare Feet and Good Things to Eat," had a band called Gypsy Boots and the Hairy Hoots and played bit parts in movies.

Survivors include two sons; a sister; and three grandchildren.