Dedicated, honest and faithful though also with a touch of mischief is how family members and friends remembered Cleburne resident Jack Browder.
“I remember Jack as a leader,” Browder’s older brother, Jimmy Browder, said. “He was probably the smartest businessman of all of us kids, and there were five of us. They called us the Browder Brats when we were kids, not because we ever got into any real trouble but just because there were so many of us.”
Browder passed away Dec. 14 at the age of 86.
“The best way I can sum Jack up is that he always told the truth, was always honest and always looked for ways to help out particularly with his church,” longtime friend Lonnie Holliday said. “I don’t think you could ever find anyone more tied to doing the right thing than he. Jack was just a good man, good to people and someone who was always going to do the right thing.”
Born in Cleburne, Browder graduated from Cleburne High School in 1953 and went on to earn a degree in business administration from Texas Christian University in 1957. Browder served in the U.S. Army, stationed in Germany, from 1958-60.
“One of dad’s best stories is when he met and processed Elvis Presley into duty,” Browder’s daughter, Wendy Kula, said. “He asked him to autograph a dollar bill but, of course being so generous, he gave it away because he didn’t think it was a big deal.”
Browder went on to work for more than 30 years in health care administration at Johnson County Memorial Hospital in Cleburne.
“When I started there in October 1970, Jack was the assistant administrator,” said Pat Bonds, a former nurse at the hospital and friend of Browder. “He later became chief administrator and we worked together for many years until the Harris Methodist system bought the hospital in the early ’80s.”
Bonds said Browder’s character and care of others never failed to impress her.
“He knew all the employees at the hospital, their families, who they were married to and all that,” Bonds said. “Jack was a Cleburne kid from the word go and always cared about his employees and Cleburne.
“I’ve said many times about Jack that he was the most honest person I’ve ever worked for. I eventually became director of nursing and so he and I faced some pretty difficult challenges in running the hospital but Jack had so much integrity and caring for others that I knew that his decisions were always right on.”
Browder continued working with the Harris Methodist Texas Health System after the old Cleburne hospital closed in the early ’80s, going on to oversee nine different hospitals and two nursing homes in the system and overseeing the building of the Walls Regional Hospital, which is now Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Cleburne.
Through working at the Cleburne hospital, Browder met the love of his life, Kula said.
“Dad was truly blessed the day he met my incredible mother, Sylvia,” Kula said. “She was a nurse in his hospital. Everyone in town was trying to set him up with the pretty new nurse. They were married for 57 years and were the sweetest couple and such amazing parents and grandparents.”
Browder, his daughter said, loved the Texas Rangers, TCU, fishing and playing and organizing weekly golf outings among 20 or so fellow golfers, not to mention his granddaughters, Bethany and Grace Kula.
“He loved them so much and, when we visited, he would proudly drive them around to his friend’s houses and show them off and brag about them,” Kula said. “He was so very proud of them and they loved every minute they spent with him. He was their sweet Poppy and Poppy and Sassy took us on so many wonderful trips to Ruidoso, New Mexico, through the years and an incredible cruise our girls still talk about today.
“We miss him dearly but we know he is playing golf, poker or gin and landing the biggest fish in heaven with his dear friends who have gone before him.”
Later in life, Browder took over operation of Doc Holliday’s Boot Barn in Cleburne.
“Daddy had been close to the Holliday family his whole life and wanted to do it for fun,” Kula said. “I tried to fix the plain decor up and wanted to digitize everything but dad wouldn’t have it. He always said, “The farmers and ranchers and people who need their steel-toed boots that come in here don’t are what it looks like.” I always disagreed. Could have been super cute and trendy but, oh well, he was right.
“After he got it up and running with a great employee, Joyce Wigginton, he would have his retired friends come into the back room where they would play card for Cokes and candy, not money. All the wives loved that the guys had a place to hang out!”
Browder, Holliday added, was particularly devoted to his faith and his church, St. Mark United Methodist Church.
“Jack was chairman of our chili supper, always out selling pumpkins or making trips to the Tarrant Food Bank in Fort Worth to keep our pantry stocked,” Holliday said. “We had a group the God Squad, which he chaired, that helped distribute food to the homeless. He was treasurer of the Methodist Men. Just really, whatever the church needed Jack was always there to help and to help do something for others.”
Browder hardly lacked for a lighter side, Holliday said.
“One of my favorites was that whenever he’d get a telephone solicitation he’d tell the person on the other end, ‘Hey, that sounds like a good idea but I’ll have to ask my probation officer,’” Holliday said.
Browder’s love of merriment and adventure dates from a young age, Jimmy Browder said.
“As a kid, my brother was most famous for giving our sister a haircut,” Jimmy Browder said. “He and one of our cousins, whose dad was a barber, decided to play barber that day. Unfortunately, they just cut all the hair off one side of our sister’s head so she was really messed up. Yes, our parents were not too thrilled about that.”
Diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 2005, Browder and his brother, Joe Browder, who also has Parkinson’s, began attending Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s boxing classes twice weekly in 2015 in Fort Worth.
“When dad was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s he told me that it wouldn’t slow him down,” Kula said. “He said, ‘As long as I can hold a golf club, a hand of cards and my granddaughters’ hands and play games with them I’ll be fine.’
“He even played golf on the morning of Nov. 23, the day mom had to insist he go to the ER for shortness of breath and pain that evening.”
Holliday said he admired his friend’s determination in dealing with Parkinson’s.
“Jack never gave in to Parkinson’s,” Holliday said. “If he could put his foot on the floor he was going to be up doing something and not just sitting down letting it get the best of him.”
Both Kula and Holliday cited one of Browder’s nicknames, the Little General.
“Because he was a natural born leader who led with a wise but quiet voice,” Kula said.
Kula shared the advice her father gave shortly before he passed.
“He said, ‘Everyone can cry all they want at my funeral, but then they should just get back to work,’” Kula said. “That was my daddy, my hero, my friend and my biggest cheerleader. May he rest in eternal peace.”
Browder’s memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday at St. Mark United Methodist Church, 1109 W. Henderson St. in Cleburne.
In lieu of flowers, family members request that donations be made to St. Mark United Methodist Church or Paulie Ayala’s Punching Out Parkinson’s program.