Ray B. Browne, 1922-2009

Ray B. Browne, longtime Secretary-Treasurer of the Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association, died October 22, 2009, following a brief illness.  He was 87.

Ray was Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of popular culture at Bowling Green State University, where he had been a member of the faculty since 1967.  He was a prolific scholar, author, and editor and a pioneer in the study of popular culture.

A folklorist and literary scholar by training, Ray became the leading architect of the popular culture movement.  He was a founder of the Popular Culture Association, the American Culture Association, the Journal of Popular Culture, the Journal of American Culture, and the PCA/ACA Endowment.  At Bowling Green State University, Ray started the Department of Popular Culture, the Center for the Study of Popular Culture, the first degree programs in popular culture studies in the nation, the Browne Popular Culture Library, and the Sound Recordings Archives.  He was a founder of the Popular Press, currently an imprint of the University of Wisconsin Press and formerly known as Bowling Green State University Popular Press.  He was instrumental in the establishment of several other journals in addition to those formally affiliated with the PCA or ACA, including Clues, the Journal of Popular Film and Television, and Popular Music and Society.  Similarly, the seven regional affiliates of the PCA and ACA (Far West, Mid-Atlantic, Midwest, Northeast, Oceanic, South, and Southwest/Texas) and their journals (Mid-Atlantic Almanack, Popular Culture Review, Studies in Popular Culture) owe their existence, directly or indirectly, to Ray Browne.

Ray is survived by his wife Pat Browne, who directed the annual PCA/ACA conference for many years and who collaborated with Ray on many of the other activities listed above.  Additional survivors include two sons (Glenn and Kevin), a daughter (Alicia), and three grandchildren.

In a way, of course, all of us who are attending this 2010 PCA/ACA conference in St. Louis are Ray’s children.  We would not be gathered together here and now if Ray had not developed and nurtured the national PCA/ACA and the annual conference.  Many of us owe our careers and the satisfaction we get from our work to Ray.  In addition to being a dear friend, colleague, and mentor to many hundreds of people who have devoted their lives to the study of popular culture, Ray was a national treasure.  As he said in an interview in 2002: “Popular culture is the voice of democracy, democracy speaking and acting, the seedbed in which democracy grows.”  This is the real reason to study popular culture.  The enjoyment the study brings us is a bonus.  Although Ray once bristled at the expression “the serious study of popular culture,” he very well understood the seriousness of the work we do.  Ray established a model for the respectful yet critical study of democratic cultural expression.  Such study is necessary and appropriate at all times, but perhaps now more than ever.  Although we will do our best to carry on the tradition that Ray established, it is unlikely that any other individual will help as many people as Ray did or set as brilliant an example.  He is irreplaceable.

–Gary Burns
Past President, PCA/ACA