Written by Mack Liederman
Thursday, 15 October 2015 21:22
If there are Munchkins in the teacher’s lounge, then you know who’s subbing on Friday.
Said substitute teacher Mr. Frank Browne, who buys teachers breakfast on Fridays: “I have my house with three cats, and I have Westfield High School with 1,600 students and 200 teachers. This is my family.”
This year marks Browne’s fifteenth year substituting at WHS, which he describes as his “retirement job.” Browne often speaks about his life in the classroom (after he reads the teacher’s assignment, of course), and prides himself on being a mentor to young people. First, he is a man of humble beginnings.
Browne was born on July 23, 1938 in Jersey City, the third of five children. His mother, a second-generation Italian immigrant, was a teacher, and his father worked at the city hall. Browne grew up in the 1950s on the streets of Jersey City, playing football with his friends, often with a ball that was just a “piece of paper tied with a rubber band.” At 14, Browne got his first job, working at the Jersey City Public Library for 50 cents an hour.
“It was a big event in my life,” he recalled. “I learned independence. I would work in the art and music department, and I would close it up by myself, at 16. I was that kind of kid. You could rely on me,” said Browne, who would work at the library for nine years throughout high school and college.
Browne attended Saint Peter’s Prep in Jersey City, where he would meet his wife Marie Hynes at a school dance, 60 years ago this month. He went on to receive a degree in engineering from Newark College of Engineering, which is now one of the six colleges of NJIT. Browne and Hynes married in 1961, when Browne was 22 and Hynes was 21. The couple moved to Westfield on Memorial Day weekend in 1969. Their only child, Marlene, graduated from WHS in 1978.
Browne’s wife worked as a nurse, psychiatry professor, and psychiatrist in her own practice. She wrote two books, including the bestseller, “If the Man You Loved was Abused”, according to nj.com. Dr. Marie Ann Browne passed away in 2013.
Mr. Browne still resides in Westfield on Lawrence Avenue.
Browne is very open about his wealth and success with his students. “I would consider myself a self-made man, nobody gave me anything,” said Browne. “A lot of kids were that way. That generation you had to be self-made.”
After graduating from college, Browne said that he spent 10 years working at medical device company Johnson & Johnson. His starting salary with J & J was $6,300 a year, a great increase from his work at the library. At J & J, Browne engineered and managed factory-line production of disposable medical equipment.
Browne went on to work in New York City as a Wall Street consultant for the firm Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co., eventually starting his own consulting practice. As a consultant, Browne said that he optimized Wall Street back-office work, which involved finding more efficient ways to process stocks, checks and billings.. Another significant portion of his wealth came from savvy stock investing.
For Browne, the key to success starts with an education. “I tell this to kids: You’ve got to get an education. You’ve got to demonstrate that you are bright, worthy, and willing to work,” he said.
Browne retired from Wall Street in 1999. After a couple years at home and an attempt to learn computer science, Browne found WHS.
Said Browne: “I sat at home for two years, read The Wall Street Journal, got bored stiff, because what am I going to do, how many times can I mow the lawn? My wife is away at college teaching, my daughter is at college, I’m by myself. So I said to myself, ‘This is not right.’ You get crazy, when you're a person used to working, you can't just put the brakes on and stop. So, I saw this ad in the paper that said, ‘Substitute Teachers wanted: Westfield School District.’ ”
That was 15 years ago. Today, Mr. Browne is still walking the halls of WHS, wearing the same style of suits and signature pocket squares he donned in his first career.
Last year, Browne added a pair of yellow-tinted glasses to his look after he had a blood vessel burst near his eye. At the end of the year, he gave the glasses to a student, junior Catie Barry.
“I would compliment him everyday about them, and then at the end of the year he gave them to me,” said Barry. “He is so kind and generous and loving and wants the best for every one of his students. He treats us like grandkids.”
Browne has made it a habit to stand outside the door before each one of his classes, in order to greet every student. He also aspires to help members of the WHS faculty. He often donates to various clubs, and has volunteered his time at WHS.
“I do that a lot,” said Browne. “If you can lessen the load and burden of a teacher, then they can concentrate on the students. You don't quite know what teachers have to go through. What is $200 to me?”
Browne sees no better place than WHS to spend his retirement.
“To come here each day and to hopefully to have an effect on 1,600 students, and if you only affect one, wow, what an accomplishment,” said Browne. “I haven't taught them history or English, but I have taught them my life experience.”
As for a future retirement from his retirement job? Never.
“I always want to work here. I’m 15 years in, and I am going to work as long as God lets me live. Why not? How much better can you have it?”