Facilitating faculty and student relationships is a core element of what makes Pacific University special. This was an influential characteristic Lorelle Browning exhibited in her 25 years spent as an English professor and department chair. On Sunday, April 26, Browning passed away of a sudden illness.
Browning’s colleagues are already feeling the effects of her absence in the foundation of the English department.
“Even though she had so many obligations she always made students feel like she was incredibly interested in what they were doing and she was incredibly interested,” said English Professor Kathlene Postma. “So I think that aspect of being a true mentor and truly excited about student epitomizes her. That’s a very rare quality and we are really feeling the loss of that.”
Browning’s entire life was based around education and empathy for people on a local and global scale. She is recognized as a preeminent non-native Vietnamese speaker who worked with Portland’s Artists Repertory
Theatre to create bilingual Vietnamese- American production of Shakespeare plays.
“After several years of hard work and dealing with the frustrations of working with various bureaucracies both here and overseas, Lorelle succeeded in bringing the Vietnamese National Theatre group to the campus for some performances,” said Professor Mike Steele. “I recall attending one of the performances. I was mesmerized by the skill of the performers, even though they were using their native language in some one-act plays.”
Browning was an activist during the
Vietnam War and believed Vietnamese theatre had the power to transform those affected by the war.
“She would want to be remembered by her commitment to heal the wounds of war in Vietnam,” said Psychology Professor Alyson Burns-Glover. “[She] truly believed [theatre] had incredible transformative powers for empathy, understanding.”
Over the course of her career at Pacific she made more than 20 trips to Vietnam.
She also produced a documentary titled “A Dream in Hanoi,” which follows the collaboration of two theater companies, one American and one Vietnamese, performing Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” while struggling to surmount many obstacles such as language, culture, ideology and a history of war.
“Lorelle had made a deeply important statement on behalf of our
two countries, that healing was possible, that friendship could replace previous animosities,” said Steele. “We are all indebted to her for that achievement.”
Browning also taught American and British drama at many colleges and universities in Hue, Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.
In her 50s, Browning learned Vietnamese through an intensive summer course in Madison, Wisc.
“How does one learn a tonal language in 100% humidity after the age of 50?” said Burns-Glover. “And she did it. She was an incredibly smart woman.”
Browning was awarded two U.S. Scholar Fulbright grants in her lifetime. During fall 2011 she was a senior fellow at Tan Tao University in Ho Chi Minh City and collaborated with the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam to sponsor a theatre production of “All My Sons” at the Hanoi Youth Theatre.
She did research during her stay on Vietnamese traditional and contemporary theatre.
Last spring, Browning was
awarded her second yearlong Fulbright. She planned to conduct research about theatre artists performing propaganda plays in Vietnamese jungles for National Liberation Front and North Vietnamese Army troops who were fighting American and French forces. She also planned to teach American drama at the Hanoi Academy of Theatre and Cinema and other universities. Browning was not able to fulfill her second Fulbright, which would have taken place during the 2014-15 school year.
When Browning started teaching at Pacific in 1989 she brought with her a great compassion for the Vietnam War era, which led to her becoming an integral part of Peace and Conflict Studies, PACS, on campus.
“Lorelle made an immediate impact in our PACS curriculum with her abiding interest in reconciliation with our former enemy, Vietnam,” said Steele. “This eventually evolved into the wonderful theatre exchange with Vietnam that Lorelle invented, directed and fostered. Lorelle also developed various classes
that dealt with the film and literature of the Vietnam War.”
While Browning had a strong focus on Vietnamese culture, she also made many strides toward strengthening the student experience with the English Department.
“With Lorelle I feel like her teaching began in the classroom but went so far beyond that,” said English Professor Keya Mitra. “She taught dynamic and wonderful classes. For Lorelle a lot of her teaching and mentoring was also outside the classroom and that’s one of the reasons why she is so cherished here on campus by students.”
Browning had many academic successes throughout her career. Some of her additional qualities mentioned by faculty members that she would want to be remembered by was her self- deprecating humor, fashion sense, love of dancing and her commitment to her family, friends and pets.
A memorial service is tentatively scheduled for June 20 on the Pacific campus.
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